Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour

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"Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" ("Beautiful Night, Oh Night of Love" in french, often referred to as the "Barcarolle") is a piece from The Tales of Hoffmann (1881), Jacques Offenbach's final opera. A duet for soprano and mezzo-soprano, it is considered the most famous barcarolle ever written[1] and described in the Grove Book of Operas as "one of the world's most popular melodies."[2] The text, concerning the beauty of the night and of love, is by Jules Barbier.

The piece[edit]

The piece opens the opera's "Giulietta" act, set in Venice. It is sung by the characters Giulietta – the protagonist Hoffmann's love, a Venetian courtesan – and Nicklausse – Hoffmann's poetic muse, in disguise as his faithful male companion.[2] In addition to the Venetian location it sets the seductive and sinister tone of the Venice act in general and of Giulietta's character specifically.[3] The music reappears later in the act in a septet, "Hélas! Mon cœur s'égare encore,"[2] which was constructed by editors of the opera.[4]

"Belle nuit" is in the 6/8 time signature characteristic of barcarolles, allegretto moderato. Approximately a minute of musical introduction occurs before the melody appears, although a flute accompaniment figure which suggests the melody, "suspend[ing] time" and creating anticipation for the melody before it begins, is played throughout the piece.[5][6] Although it is sung by a juvenile male character, Nicklausse, in a "breeches role", and a female character, Giulietta, the fact of its being fundamentally a piece for two women's voices, intertwining in the same octave, means that in productions where Nicklausse has been played by a male baritone instead of a female mezzo-soprano, his part has been reassigned to a chorus soprano.[6]

Carl Dahlhaus cites the piece as an example of the duplicity of musical banality: in the period of Wagner, when serious opera was marked by chromaticism, Offenbach used the Barcarolle's very consonance to give a sinister feel to the act throughout which it recurs. Dahlhaus attributes this effect to the contrast between the "physical" presence of the vocal line and the ethereal feel of the instrumental introduction, creating a "mirage." "Beneath the music we hear, there seems to be a second musical level descending into the abyss."[7]


The Barcarolle does not originate in The Tales of Hoffmann; it was written in 1864 for Offenbach's Die Rheinnixen, where it is sung as "Komm' zu uns" by the chorus of elves in the third act.[8] In Hoffmann, it appeared in the version of 1881; although the third act was cut at the premiere, the location of the second act (Antonia) was changed from Munich to Venice in order to retain the duet, which was sung by offstage chorus and soloists rather than characters.[3][4]

The Barcarolle inspired the English composer Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji to write his Passeggiata veneziana sopra la Barcarola di Offenbach (1955–56). Moritz Moszkowski also wrote a virtuoso transcription of it for piano.

Many subsequent films have made use of Offenbach's music for the Barcarolle, most famously Life Is Beautiful (1997). The piece, which in this film represents European culture as contrasted with Fascist oppression, is used diegetically, first in a scene where Guido sees Dora, the woman he loves, at the opera, and later when Guido plays the piece through the concentration camp on a record player and Dora, now his wife, hears it.[9] Other uses include the Walt Disney Silly Symphony "Birds of a Feather" (1931);[10] G.I. Blues (1960), where a jazzed-up version becomes the tune for Elvis Presley's "Tonight is so Right for Love";[11] Dad's Army ("Time on my Hands", 1972), where it is identified as a "German" classical song with a swing rhythm;[12] Margaret (2011),[13] and Midnight in Paris (2011).[14] It is also the tune of "Adrift on a Star" from the musical The Happiest Girl in the World,[15] of Ophelia's song in the Gilligan's Island episode "The Producer",[16] and is used by Sherlock Holmes to set a trap for the criminals in The Adventure of the Mazarin Stone.[17] Bob Dylan's song "I've Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You" from his album Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020) quotes from the Barcarolle in the guitar accompaniment.[18][19]

The melody from "Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour" was also adapted for the 1968 song "Please Don't Go", which was given English lyrics by Les Reed and Jackie Rae.[20] The song was a hit in the UK for Welsh singer Donald Peers, whose version lasted 21 weeks in the UK Singles Chart, peaking at No. 3 in March 1969.[21]


Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,
Souris à nos ivresses !
Nuit plus douce que le jour !
Ô belle nuit d'amour !

Le temps fuit et sans retour
Emporte nos tendresses;
Loin de cet heureux séjour
Le temps fuit sans retour !

Zéphyrs embrasés.
Versez-nous vos caresses !
Zéphyrs embrasés.
Donnez-nous vos baisers !

Belle nuit, ô nuit d'amour,
Souris à nos ivresses !
Nuit plus douce que le jour !
Ô belle nuit d'amour !


  1. ^ Libbey, Theodore (2006). The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music. Workman Publishing. p. 37.
  2. ^ a b c Sadie, Stanley; Macy, Laura, eds. (2006). The Grove Book of Operas. Oxford University Press. pp. 126–27.
  3. ^ a b Hadlock, Heather (2000). Mad Loves: Women and Music in Offenbach's Les Contes D'Hoffmann. Princeton University Press. ISBN 9780691058023.
  4. ^ a b Dibbern, Mary (2002). The Tales of Hoffmann: A Performance Guide. Pendragon Press. p. 19. ISBN 9781576470336.
  5. ^ Huron, David Brian (2006). Sweet Anticipation: Music And the Psychology of Expectation. MIT Press. p. 321.
  6. ^ a b Smart, Mary Ann (2000). Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera. Princeton University Press. p. 74. ISBN 9780691058139.
  7. ^ Dahlhaus, Carl (1989). Nineteenth-Century Music. University of California Press. p. 282. ISBN 9780520076440.
  8. ^ Fuld, James J. (2000). The Book of World-Famous Music: Classical, Popular and Folk. Dover. p. 127. ISBN 9780486414751.
  9. ^ Landy, Marcia (2000). Italian Film. Cambridge University Press. p. 119.
  10. ^ Adorno, Theodor; Eisler, Hanns (1947). Composing for the Films. ISBN 9780826480163.
  11. ^ All Music Guide to Country: The Definitive Guide to Country Music. Backbeat Books. 2003. p. 604. ISBN 9780879307608.
  12. ^ "Time on My Hands", series 5, episode 13, Dad's Army on YouTube
  13. ^ Woolfe, Zachary (August 16, 2012). "How Hollywood Films are Killing Opera". The New York Times.
  14. ^ "Midnight in Paris Soundtrack Tracklist". Retrieved 23 June 2017.
  15. ^ Alonso, Harriet Hyman (2012). Yip Harburg: Legendary Lyricist and Human Rights Activist. Wesleyan University Press. p. 211. ISBN 9780819571243.
  16. ^ Metz, Walter (2012). Gilligan's Island. Wayne State University Press. p. 14. ISBN 978-0814336472.
  17. ^ Eisenberg, Evan (2005). The Recording Angel: Music, Records And Culture From Aristotle To Zappa. Yale University Press. p. 90.
  18. ^ Pareles, Jon (18 June 2020). "Bob Dylan Still Bristles on ‘Rough and Rowdy Ways’". The New York Times. Retrieved 2 July 2020.
  19. ^ Roux, Benoît (20 June 2020). "Chronique du dernier Bob Dylan « Rough and Rowdy Ways »". France Info. Retrieved 2 July 2020 (in French).
  20. ^ "Cover versions of "Please Don't Go" by Donald Peers". Retrieved 27 January 2019.
  21. ^ Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 422. ISBN 978-1-904994-10-7.

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