Barbe-bleue (French pronunciation: [baʁb blø], Bluebeard) is an opéra bouffe, or operetta, in three acts (four scenes) by Jacques Offenbach to a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based on Charles Perrault's 1697 story.
The work was composed while Offenbach was travelling during 1865, in Vienna, Brussels and Cologne, conducting his works in those cities. Other distractions during the period were the marriage on 9th August in Étretat of his eldest daughter Berthe to Charles Comte (for which he composed a mass) and problems with gout (which he encouraged the press to report).
It was first performed at the Théâtre des Variétés, Paris on 5 February 1866, playing for five months. Following the great success of the creators’ Belle Hélène, the roles were close relations of the composer’s antique operetta: Dupuis (Paris) another seducer, in Barbe-Bleue, Kopp (Ménélas) another old vain, cuckolded monarch in Bobèche, Grenier (Calchas) once more the mediocre confidant of a king - Count Oscar and Schneider (Hélène) again a woman seeking all of her desires - Boulotte. Yon echoes contemporary critics such as Monselet in judging the libretto to be one of the best constructed the composer set.
Productions outside France followed swiftly: London, Vienna and Brussels in 1866, Stockholm, Berlin, Budapest, Milan and Copenhagen in 1867. The operetta was given in New York City at the Grand Opera House on 24 December 1870 and seen in Sydney, Australia in 1872. It had its Czech premiere in 1874, under Adolf Čech.
The work was revived in 1888 at the Variétés in Paris with Jeanne Granier as Boulotte. A 1904 Paris revival included Baron as Bobèche, Eve Lavallière as Hermia and Tariol as Boulotte. In 1941, Mikael Fokine’s final choreography consisted of a ballet reworking by Antal Doráti, staged in Mexico. In the period up to 1963 the work was much neglected until the Komische Oper production that year; the Berlin production was directed by Walter Felsenstein and continued for many years in the repertoire of the house as well as being filmed and toured. In 1971 the Théâtre de Paris presented the piece in a disfigured edition, musically and textually, with Jean Le Poulain playing both Bobèche and Popolani. Productions were mounted in Geneva in 1984 and in Strasbourg in 1996.
|Role||Voice type||Premiere Cast, February 5, 1866,
|Boulotte, a peasant woman||soprano||Hortense Schneider|
|Queen Clémentine||mezzo-soprano||Aline Duval|
|Princess Hermia, daughter of the king
(In Act 1, Fleurette, a peasant girl
|Oscar, the King's minister||bass||Pierre-Eugène Grenier|
|Popolani, an alchemist in the service of Barbe-Bleue||baritone||Henri Couder|
|Prince Saphir||tenor||Paul Hittemans|
|Héloïse, a wife of Barbe-Bleue||soprano||de Géraudon|
|Eléonore, a wife of Barbe-Bleue||mezzo-soprano||Martin|
|Isaure, a wife of Barbe-Bleue||mezzo-soprano||Gabrielle|
|Rosalinde, a wife of Barbe-Bleue||soprano||Amélie|
|Blanche, a wife of Barbe-Bleue||soprano||Berthe Legrand|
|First peasant woman||soprano||Béatrix|
|Second peasant woman||soprano||Léonie|
|Peasants, Barbe-Bleue's guards, courtiers, pages and Bobèche's guards|
Prince Saphir, in love with the flower-girl Fleurette, disguises himself as a shepherd to move near to where she lives. Fleurette loves Saphir but complains that he has not yet proposed marriage. Boulotte wants to seduce Saphir. King Bobèche does not want a female heir to his throne, and so he abandoned his daughter Hermia when she was three years old. Now that his son has gone his own way, the king remembers his daughter. He asks his minister Oscar to find her within one day. Oscar meets his old friend Popolani, an alchemist with Knight Bluebeard. It is Popolani’s charge to poison the Knight’s wives upon request (at least Bluebeard believes that he poisons them), and Popolani has been ordered to find a new wife. Boulotte, having drawn the first prize in the village lottery of virtue, is brought to Bluebeard.
Oscar finds out by chance that Fleurette is Princess Hermia, and he brings her to the happy king and queen. With the princess's identity now known, Prince Saphir comes out of hiding, removing the last obstacle to the wedding. Boulotte has become Bluebeard's sixth wife. However, Bluebeard appears at the royal wedding and falls in love with Princess Hermia. He decides to poison Boulotte that evening and to make Hermia his seventh wife. However, events take a different course.
- Lamb A. Barbe-bleue. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
- Offenbach : correspondances avec Meilhac et Halévy. In: Programme book for Barbe-Bleue, Opéra du Rhin, 1996, p85-87.
- Dufresne, Claude. Barbe-Bleue: les tourbillons de sa création. In: Programme book for Barbe-Bleue, Opéra du Rhin, 1996, p91-94.
- Yon, Jean-Claude. Variations autour de Barbe-Bleue. In: Programme book for Barbe-Bleue, Opéra du Rhin, 1996, p64-75.
- Loewenberg A. Annals of Opera. London, John Calder, 1978.
- Cesky hudebny slovnik; Retrieved 21 April 2013
- 1866 Libretto, in WikiSource
- Libretto as originally submitted for censorship.
- Information about the New York production
- Information about English version