Jacques Offenbach: La Vie Parisienne Overture
Jacques Offenbach’s famous comic operetta La Vie Parisienne was premiered initially as a five-act production at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal in October 1866. Soon after Offenbach revised the operetta into the four-act version we now know (the original fourth movement was removed).The revised performance premiered in September 1873, also in Paris. The libretto for the work was by Henri Melihac and Ludovic Halévy.
Unlike some of his other period/mythology-based operatic works, La Vie Parisienne is all about contemporary Parisian life. The operetta remains one of Offenbach’s most popular works.
The overture of any theatrical work is the first taste of the kind of music the audience might come to expect from the show they’re about the watch. Not all overtures necessarily use carbon copies of the music from the production, but more they embody and capture a snapshot of the atmosphere that lies at the heart of the production. Offenbach’s overture for La Vie Parisienne certainly gives you the impression that the production will be comedic.
A bouncy string theme opens the overture and soon establishes itself as one of the main melodies of the piece. The quick changes in tempo and dynamic adds to the physical comedy of the music as your body tries to move along with it. A quaint flute solo leads the music into the first prominent accelerando section. As the tension rises, Offenbach plays around with rhythmic variations of the theme.
Excitement is high throughout the overture, with the sparkling strings leading the way melodically as well as constantly pushing the tempi further. The short woodwind interludes after a climax represent the Parisian life element of the operetta’s story, with the slow increase of tempo adding to the comedic element of the music. The music is light throughout, with Offenbach choosing his instrumentation carefully.
The overture sees a repeat of the main theme before the tempo really picks up. Crashing percussion accentuates off-beats as the overture comes to epic end as the orchestra unites for the final hurrah.
Jacques Offenbach’s comedic overture to his operetta La Vie Parisienne strikes a charming balance between the pomp of Parisian life and the comedy element of the production. From fizzing string melodies to crashing percussion, this overture welcomes you to the wonderful world of Offenbach.
Ⓒ Alex Burns
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