Djamileh (1871)

By Lesley A. Wright, University of Hawaii

Written for the concert Paris in the 1860s performed on Sep 25, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Bizet’s one-act opera comique, Djamileh (1872) evokes a vision of the non-Western world, like so many other musical, literary and artistic efforts in nineteenth-century France. Meyerbeer’s L´Africaine (1865), David’s La Perle du Brésil (1851) and Lalla Roukh (1862), Saint-Saëns’ Samson et Dalila (1877), Delibes’ Lakmé (1883) as well as Bizet’s own Picheurs de perles (1863) and Carmen (1875) serve as a few of the other operatic examples. Before 1870 French musicians tended to focus their attention on North Africa and the Near or Middle East where French economic and political interests were strongest; later they also explored subjects set in the Far East. Some plots feature the encounter of a European traveler, explorer or soldier with the Oriental Other, but exotic settings may also be used to create a fantasy, the dream of another life. Djamileh belongs to the second group, and draws its audience into a dream with a fairy-tale setting in a Cairo palace and an opening sequence with such mood-creating features as a backstage chorus, smoke from a water pipe, and a silent first appearance of the heroine.

An Arabian fairy tale may have seemed a particularly appropriate morsel to help the bourgeoisie escape from stressful realty in the first full opera season after the national humiliation of the Franco-Prussian War and the destruction caused by the Commune, but Louis Gallet had actually completed this libretto several years earlier, during the brilliant gaiety of the Second Empire. He based his slight tale on Alfred de Musset’s “conte oriental” Namouna (1833). Musset wrote his poem during the flush of French Romanticism that also produced Victor Hugo’s Orientales (1829).. He began his capricious musings with the description of an indolent and drowsy Hassan, lying on a sofa after his bath, nude and smoking an opium pipe while the sun was setting. As a pastime Hassan, portrayed as a Don Juan without idealism, buys two slave girls each month and discards them when the month is over. Only the last ten of 147 stanzas tell the tale of Namouna. In Musset’s poem she is a blonde Spaniard who chooses to forgo her liberty out of love for Hassan. Among other elements the poet has incorporated stereotyped European images of the Orient: heightened sensuality and the fantasy of the submissive and available female. Gallet retained Musset’s sunset, the smoke, and of course, the Orientalist stereotypes – the decadence of Hassan (renamed Haroun) and the submissive total love of Namouna (renamed Djamileh). He added the opportunities for arias, duets, a trio, a sensuous ballet and choruses of Nile boatmen and Haroun’s gambling friends; in addition, he created an opéra-comique character, Splendiano, an Osmin-like tutor and servant with a crush on the beautiful slave.

Bizet was not a traveler, thought he may well have read travelers’ descriptions of their adventures in the Orient, enjoyed exotic – paintings like those of Delacroix, Ingres or Henri Regnault (a young admirer of Bizet’s music), and soaked in the sounds of Egyptian and Turkish musicians when he attended the International Exposition in Paris during 1867; exotic texts had stimulated his creative imagination before. Camille du Lode, the younger of two directors of the Opera Comique, may have known of Bizet’s predilection when he recalled Gallet’s libretto from the composer Jules Duprato and offered it to Bizet. But du Lode had been attracted to other oriental subjects as well. An acquaintance of archeologist and Egyptologist Auguste Mariette, he had forwarded Mariette’s scenario for Aida to Verdi, written the prose draft of the opera with the composer, and visited Cairo in preparation for the Aida premiere in December 1871. It was du Lode who suggested the name “Djamileh” (from the Arabic word for “lovely”). During rehearsals of Bizet’s work he took great pains to insist on authentic oriental furniture and costumes.

Bizet found the text difficult to set but accepted the libretto in July 1871, in part because he wished to keep his name before the public until he could return with a full-length work. (His Jolie Fille de Perth had briefly graced the stage of the Théatre-Lyrique some four years earlier; Carmen would not have its troubled premiere until March 1875.) Djamileh was presented that next spring at the Opéra-Comique as the second of three one-act operas by promising composers of the “new school” – Paladilhe’s Le Passant in April, Bizet’s Djamileh in May, and Saint-Saëns’ La Princesse jaune in June. The last, also penned by Gallet, features another orientalist plot, this time about a Dutchman, fascinated by all things Japanese, who drinks a potion and is transported to Japan in his fantasy. None of the three works succeeded with the public or the press. All three young composers were attacked for Wagnérisme (essentially as catchword to refer to newer styles with their more complex harmony and a more active role for the orchestra), and indeed, there was a certain sharper edge to such anti-German criticism in 1872 because of Wagner’s insulting comments about the recent French defeat.

Bizet’s friend, the perceptive critic/composer Ernest Reyer, said, “It is absolutely necessary if your Arab music is to charm us, that it, too, becomes civilized.” And so Bizet, like others of his generation, did not seek to create his vision of the Orient with ethnomusicological accuracy, but turned instead to an accepted repertory of musical elements that the French public anticipated finding in an Orientalist work: for melody, the augmented second, melisma, ambiguous major/minor shifts and lowered leading tone; for rhythm, repetitive patterns or alternating meters; for harmony, long pedal tones and open fifths. Orchestration might involve a tambourine as in Bizet’s poetic opening backstage chorus where a tambourine plays an ostinato rhythm and a piano strikingly punctuates the end of each segment with a passage of chromatic descent. Djamileh’s Ghazel and later the sensuous “Danse de l’Aimée” also exploit ostinato rhythm and sinuous chromatic melody. Again and again passages for Djamileh are set apart from the lighter, more diatonic style of the men, her depth of character highlighted by the chromaticism and accented dissonance that Bizet’s contemporaries associated with Wagner.

Bizet himself admitted that Djamileh was not a success. The libretto contained too little action, and the cast included a beginning tenor, a singing actor, and a baroness of great beauty but limited experience and talent. (Even with Bizet in the prompter’s box to help her she skipped thirty-two bars in the Ghazel.) The opera disappeared from the stage of the Opéra-Comique after eleven performances that spring. Although it was revived in various European capitals beginning in the 1890s and acquired such illustrious admirers as Mahler and Strauss, Bizet’s first truly mature opera has held a tenuous place in the repertory despite the strong music for the vibrant central figure, magically effective orchestration, and an atmosphere perfumed with intense lyricism and evocative exoticism.

Paris in the 1860s The Origins of Impressionism

By Leon Botstein

Written for the concert Paris in the 1860s performed on Sep 25, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Understanding art and culture as functions of seemingly unique, easily described national character traits has become a convenient and deceptive habit. There is irony, consequently, in the realization that the most significant event in the modern history of French music was the Paris premiere of Richard Wagner’s Tannhäuser (in a revised version) on March 13, 1861. The work caused a near riot, prompting Wagner to withdraw it after the third performance. From the publication that spring of Charles Baudelaire’s two-part essay “Richard Wagner and Tannhäuser in Paris” to the death of Claude Debussy in 1918, the debate over whether one ought to succumb to or resist Wagner’s ideas defined the character of French music and aesthetics.

The curious interplay between the French and the German might well be regarded as a fascinating underlying theme to this concert. No doubt our accepted notion of the history of modern painting affirms that, from Impressionism on, European modernism in the visual arts took its primary inspiration from the French. Insofar as the painters, poets, and musicians of Paris in the 1860s and after worked side by side, it can be said that not only French music but French poetry (e.g. symbolism) and French painting owed much to Wagner.

On the other side, Friedrich Nietzsche, once Wagner’s ardent champion who later crafted a compelling and penetrating critique, embraced Georges Bizet’s masterpiece Carmen as the quintessential anti-Wagnerian model of operatic greatness. Indeed, of all French nineteenth-century music, it was Bizet’s oeuvre that captivated turn-of-the century German-speaking composers and audiences. This generation was in search of some route out of the maze of imitative neo-Wagnerism. With Bizet, particularly in his one-act opera Djamileh, one could detect the disarming lightness of Offenbach and the lyric elegance and economy of Mozart–all without any loss of the seriousness and emotional power in which Wagner specialized. Bizet commanded the twin musical languages of humor and passion with equal skill and invention.

Djamileh has been unfairly neglected for most of its existence. The libretto was written during the Second Empire, in the later 1860s, and mirrors that decade’s spirit. But the collapse of the Empire, the defeat at the hands of the Prussians, and the experience of the Paris Commune intervened before the music was composed. Bizet’s decision to set a text that could easily have seemed anachronistic by 1872 reflects his attraction to an opportunity within the story that those recent historical events only enhanced: the chance to interweave the comic and the tragic. It was precisely the subtle shifts from the frivolous to the intensely romantic in Djamileh that attracted the attention and admiration of Gustav Mahler and Richard Strauss.

If Djamileh is at all familiar to today’s music lovers, it is probably because Mahler’s biographers have mentioned in passing that in 1898, during his tenure at the Vienna Opera, he revived Djamileh and conducted all of its nineteen performances between 1898 and 1903. Mahler evidently loved this obscure masterpiece. The same can be said for his friend and rival Richard Strauss. In 1945, in a letter to Karl Boehm, Strauss penned what he dubbed his “artistic testament.” He wanted to outline what should be done to revive culture after the “catastrophe” of the war. Strauss recommended that Vienna establish a permanent “opera comique” in the Theater an der Wien where the greatest of all comic operas, The Magic Flute, had been premiered. In his brief list of essential works for its repertoire, Strauss included Djamileh, which can be viewed as a source of inspiration for Ariadne auf Naxos, in which Strauss brings about a Bizet-like synthesis of Mozartian lyricism and Wagnerian drama.

Paris was a remarkable crucible of creativity in the 1860s. The aesthetic debates of that decade were central not only to the formal direction modern painting, literature, and music would take; the manner in which art and culture either influenced or mirrored national identity became a near obsession. The world from which Impressionism came also gave birth to a modern politics marked by sharp nationalist pride, conflict, and hatred. Sewn into the fabric of French controversies surrounding Wagner and the direction of modern art from the 1860s and 1870s were strands of chauvinism, racialist thinking, and anti-Semitism. The Jewish librettist of La Vie Parisienne and many other Offenbach works, Ludovic Halévy, was for years among the closest of Edgar Degas’s friends. That friendship would end in the wake of the Dreyfus Affair: Degas was a staunch believer in Dreyfus’s guilt.

In more ways than one, Offenbach, also a Jew, deserves the last word on the Paris of the 1860s and its significance. Like many “outsiders” before and since, Offenbach was able to define, distill, and parody the main currents of Parisian culture and its values and communicate them back to the majority of Parisians. This outsider created the very definition of the “cultural center” in relation to which, ironically, he remained marginal. Offenbach’s achievement went still further. In the midst of the craze for Wagner (who was among the most significant of modern anti-Semites), this German Jew, like Heinrich Heine (who also had immigrated to Paris), used wit and insight to expose and blunt aesthetic pretentiousness, smugness, hypocrisy, conceit, and the terrifying self-importance of modern wealth and political power. High on the explicit and implicit list of Offenbach’s targets for ridicule were Wagner and his Parisian followers.

That his music has been held in such high esteem by many original minds of the twentieth century is testimony to Offenbach’s understanding that comedy provides an opportunity to communicate a unique ethical critique. Amidst the laughter and irreverence, his stage works demonstrate how music and language can become instruments to combat the inflated rhetoric, fanaticism, and self-importance of everyday life that lead humans into conflict and enmity. As one laughs at oneself, one gains a precious moment of recognition that can inspire modesty, compromise, and compassion. Offenbach was the master of this cleansing kind of theater. To achieve such a result, the music had to be non-trivial (as it indeed is in La Vie Parisienne and Offenbach’s many other master-works) and every bit as compelling, memorable, and alluring as one would expect in great serious opera. Every age, especially ours, needs an Offenbach of its own.

More on Paris in the 1860s

By Matthew Truesdell, University of California Berkeley

Written for the concert Paris in the 1860s performed on Sep 25, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

“The Parisian,” noted a perceptive American visitor to Paris in the late 1860s, “cares but little for his home … As much time as he can spare from his business he spends on the streets, at the café, or at some place of amusement.” And why not? For most Parisians, “home” was a constricted apartment with few amenities, while just beyond the doorstep lay the most stylish and sophisticated urban environment of the age. Parisians could stroll in the attractive parks or along the broad boulevards of the new Paris, drink and socialize in one of the city’s thousands of cafes, visit a dance hall, or take one of more than 50,000 seats (one for about every thirty-six residents) in the city’s theaters, circuses, and café_concerts.

At its most dazzling, the tone of the city’s social life was set by the court of the Second Empire. The repressive – though gradually liberalizing – regime of Napoleon III practiced a politics of festivity which masked the realities of power beneath a seemingly endless whirl of pleasures, all fully reported in the newspapers and illustrated press for vicarious consumption. The tout-Paris of the age took its cue from the court and pursued, on the surface at least, a hedonistic lifestyle. It paraded its wealth in afternoon carriage rides in the Bois de Boulogne, evenings at the opera or theater, and lavish dinners at the Café Anglais.

Seen from the city’s less affluent districts, the gilded pleasures of the carriage set must have seemed almost incredibly distant. Though the 1860s were a relatively prosperous decade, the city’s poor lived in truly miserable conditions, and most workers put in twelve-hour days for a barely subsistence wage. Nonetheless, the city offered diversions, even here. Paris’ numerous café’s and bal publics provided at least an illusion of escape from the harsh realities of working class life, as did the official celebrations under a ruler who believed that “one of the first duties of a sovereign is to amuse his subjects of all ranks in the social scale.” The opening of one of Baron Haussmann’s new boulevards or the visit of a foreign monarch, for example, provided an excuse for lavish (free) spectacle, as did the regime’s yearly holiday on the birthday of Napoleon I, a celebration which always included fireworks, illuminations, huge military pantomimes, and free performances in the city’s theaters.

The public spaces of Paris were not, of course, reserved for Parisians alone. Rich foreigners, like those parodied by Offenbach in La Vie Parisienne, flocked to the “modern Babylon” for the latest in everything fashionable. Not-so-rich foreigners also came to the city, and sometimes, like Offenbach, a native of Cologne, stayed. These visitors and immigrants came for Paris’ sophisticated, urban culture, and in coming, further enriched that culture in myriad ways. Paris, like New York in the twentieth century, had the ineffable charisma of the symbolic center of the world, of the place to be. It was, as social critic Walter Benjamin aptly put it, “the capital of the nineteenth century.”

Paris was as cosmopolitan in taste as it was in population. Indeed, the city was full of and fascinated by things foreign and exotic, and especially – a legacy of Romanticism reinforced by the French presence in Algeria and Egypt – by anything Oriental. This obsession extended not only to the arts, as in Bizet’s Djamileh or the painters’ interest in Japanese prints, but also the very streets of the city, where visiting Asians sometimes found themselves followed about by crowds of curious locals, and where, in 1861, the regime celebrated its military adventure in China with a grand illuminated representation of the Summer Palace in Peking, which its troops had burned down the year before.

Nothing during the decade more nourished Paris’ taste for the foreign (or brought more foreigners to Paris) than the event for which Offenbach was commissioned to write La Vie Parisienne, the Universal Exposition of 1867. Individual country displays radiated out from the center of an enormous steel and glass oval building on the Champ-de-Mars, so that visitors, by walking around the circular palace would have the impression of traveling around the world. Just outside of the exposition palace itself was an array of foreign restaurants, complete with waitresses in native costume (“One eats and drinks in all the languages,” quipped Offenbach’s librettist, Ludovic Halèvy) and a park where the displays included a Chinese tea-house, an Egyptian temple (a replica of the Bardo Palaqce in Tunisia), and a Turkish bath.

But not even the most flamboyant of diversions could sustain the regime in the face of military defeat at the hands of the Prussians. In retrospect, the combined disasters of the Franco-Prussian War and Paris Commune – the repression of which left much of the city in ruins and some 20,000 Parisians dead in the streets – lend the joy and lightheartedness of the 1860s a certain tragic quality. For Paris, as for Emile Zola’s reckless and extravagant courtesan, Nana, who lay dying in a Paris hotel as the troops left for the front, the frolics of the 1860s gave way to funerals.

La Vie Parisienne: Excerpts (1866)

By Ian Strasfogel, Theater Director and Specialist on the Music of Offenbach

Written for the concert Paris in the 1860s performed on Sep 25, 1994 at Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center.

Far and away the most popular composer of Second Empire France, Jacques Offenbach dominated the Parisian theatre between 1855 and the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War fifteen years later. While best known today for his unfinishedfantasy opera Les contes d’Hoffmann, his contemporaries knew him as the creator of the “Offenbachiades,” highly tuneful comic operettas that were the runaway hits of Louis Napoleon’s Paris. Offenbach’s success was not merely commercial; artists as diverse as Rossini, Tolstoy and Meyerbeer joined in the public acclamation.

Offenbach was exceptionally prolific; he completed 101 stage works, of which over forty were full length operettas. Many of these pieces retain their charm, vigor and theatricality today, whether one act farces like Ba-ta-clan or L’isle de Tulipatan or large-scale works like La belle Hélène, La Périchole, La Grande Duchesse de Gerolstein and today’s La Vie Parisienne.

Despite his solid grounding in harmony and counterpoint, Offenbach wrote very little abstract music. He was a man of the theatre who used his musical gifts to tell stories and create characters. He collaborated with France’s finest scenarists and lyricists, in particular the team of Charles Meilhac and Ludovic Halèvy (who wrote the text for La Vie Parisienne, in addition to Bizet’s Carmen and numerous other plays, operettas and operas).

Though Offenbach’s plots were often set in distant historical periods, his main theme was contemporary life. No matter what costumes his characters wore, they sang the songs of Second Empire Paris. Offenbach celebrated his world through his music; he wooed it, praised it, mocked it and seduced it. In return, the Parisian public sang his songs, danced his dances and packed his theatres night after night. 1860s Paris was unthinkable without him.

And yet Jacques Offenbach, the epitome of Louis Napoleon’s Paris, was a German Jew, who spoke French with a thick accent. His father was born Isaak Juda Eberst, called “Der Offenbacher,” because he had come from Offenbach-am-Main. Soon after settling in Deutz, a suburb of Cologne, Isaak changed his name to Offenbach and started work as a cantor and music teacher in the Jewish community. His seventh child, Jakob proved to be a musical prodigy, so much so that Isaak packed him off to Paris to audition for the Paris Conservatoire. Despite a regulation against accepting foreigners (ten years before, the twelve year old Franz Liszt had been turned down), Luigi Cherubini, the elderly Italian composer who led the Conservatoire, made an exception and admitted the fourteen year old Jakob to the school’s cello class. Within a year, however, Offenbach had left the Conservatoire to start his career. He didn’t want harmony lessons; he wanted a theatre. It was to be a twenty-year struggle before he got one.

In 1855 the central government announced it would allow a tiny barn on the Champs Elysees to be used for theatrical performances. Offenbach was one of twenty applicants for this little property which had the great virtue of proximity to the Palace of Industry where Louis Napoleon had just opened the International Exposition of 1855. That meant the theatre would be extremely convenient for the thousands of tourists and businessmen visiting the trade fair. Offenbach called in all his favors to triumph in the scramble for the theatre and on July 5, 1855, his company, the Bouffes Parisiens, was opened to the public.

The piece de resistance on opening night was Les deux aveugles, a comic sketch about two blind beggars. Offenbach’s colleagues were disturbed that he would dare to make fun about such a sensitive subject, but Offenbach was adamant. He knew that most of his patrons had been plagued by beggars on Parisian street corners. He sensed they would be delighted to hear that the beggars who pestered them weren’t really the outcasts of an unjust society but con men out to earn a little extra cash.

Offenbach was right. The opening night public loved Les deux aveugles, as much for its underlying message as for its catchy dance tunes. Thus began Offenbach’s love affair with Second Empire Paris. Using his formidable musical gifts, he would create comedies mocking the customs of the day, without ever seriously challenging the people who bought his tickets or paid his bills.

Offenbach soon became the insider’s insider in Louis Napoleon’s France. His chief journalistic support came from the main Parisian newspaper Le Figaro, whose publisher de Villemessant was an early investor in the Bouffes Parisiens. His political protector was none other than the Duc de Morny, Louis Napoleon’s second in command. An immensely witty and cultivated man, de Morny so loved Offenbach’s music that he wrote the text for M. Choufleuri restera chez lui, one of the composer’s most successful one-acters.

No work better displays Offenbach’s intoxication with contemporary Paris than La Vie Parisienne. Though many of his early one-acters had been set in modern times, this was his first full length piece to directly portray Parisian life. Absent are the historical trappings of the earlier Offenbachiades – the wild cavorting of Greek gods in Orphee aux Enfer and La belle Hélène , the macabre medievalism of Barbe bleue, the colonial satire of La Périchole. All we see onstage is Paris, 1867. At its premiere, the audience was astonished by this, thrilled.

Offenbach holds up the mirror to his times in La Vie Parisienne. And what does his mirror reflect? The excitement, the giddiness that Paris inspires in its visitors. The work’s theme is simple: everyone wants to go to Paris, live in Paris, love in Paris. The first stop for all pleasure-starved foreigners is the railway station and so Meilhac and Halèvy begin their tale there. First we meet the railway personnel who proudly list all the French towns they serve, quickly transforming a railroad timetable into a nationalist salute. Soon, the Baron and Baroness Gondremarck arrive from ice-locked Stockholm for a Parisian holiday. In an intoxicating trio, they ask the tour guide Joseph Partout to show them the capitol’s glittering night life. Finally, Pompa di Matadores, a Brazilian millionaire, arrives determined to spend his fortune on the joys and dissipation only Paris can provide. His couplets, the most famous In the operetta and perhaps all Offenbach’s oeuvre, exude an almost savage energy. The music pulls us into the vortex of the sensual life. There is no resisting it.

Metella’s song in Act II strongly contrasts with all this bustle and brio. Metella, a good-hearted prostitute, reads a letter from Baron Gondremarck’s friend, the Baron Frascata. Frascata asks her to give Gondremarck the same pleasure she once had given him. The melancholic music makes clear how keenly Frascata misses Metalla’s lovemaking, how isolated he feels in the frozen reaches of the North.

Offenbach was far more than a melodist. He shared with Donizetti and Rossini a great gift for building ensembles to a rousing climax. The wild party that ends Act III demonstrates this well. The guests vow to start their party calmly, so their pleasure will last all the longer. Offenbach accordingly begins with sober, straight-forward music that perfectly depicts the guests as they eye one another, waiting to see who will make the first move. The tempo picks up as Bobinet rises to greet the crowd with a drinking song. The music keeps pace as champagne starts to flow and Baron Gondremarck gets drunk. It transforms yet again, exploding into a wild polka as the party turns into a debauch.

La Vie Parisienne retains its force as a hymn to a great city at a specific, very fortunate moment in its development. It has the freshness and immediacy of the advanced art of its time; its vivid tableaux seem as fresh as the canvasses of Monet, Manet and Renoir. Yet, strangely, degas was the only Impressionist who had any contact with Offenbach (through his close friendship with Offenbach’s chief librettist, Ludovic Halévy.) When Degas turned to the theatre for subject matter, he invariably depicted the more elegant worlds of ballet and opera rather than the Bouffes Parisiens. Perhaps even more than the Impressionists, the contemporary French artists who seem closest to Offenbach are Honore Daumier, satirist of the French power elite, and Constantin Guys, chronicler of the demi-monde. Yet, neither one seems ever to have had any contact with the composer, quite possibly because they disagreed with his establishment politics.

Offenbach’s politics were central to his success, of course; they also proved to be his undoing. His name was indissolubly linked with that of Louis Napoleon and the Duc de Morny. As their power waned, a new generation arose with a completely different sense of the world. These liberals, Emile Zola foremost among them, saw La Vie Parisienne and the other Offenbachiades as something shameful. Zola attacked Offenbach for using his musical genius to soothe the public, to increase its smug sense of privilege and to prettify the cruel realities of Second Empire France – the terrible economic distress of the poor, the callous wastefulness of the rich. To Zola, Second Empire France was not to be celebrated, but deplored. Its future was doomed.

History proved him right. France was irrevocably changed by the fall of Paris to Bismarck’s troops in 1871 and Offenbach’s career faltered. He never composed another work to match his earlier successes; he was never again considered an essential part of his country’s culture. Only with the posthumousappearance of Les contes d’Hoffmann did Parisians remember what a remarkable artist he was.

Offenbach’s influence has been broadly felt; it ranges from Johann Strauss’s Die Fledermaus (based on a Meilhac play) to the masterpieces of Gilbert and Sullivan to Francis Poulenc’s Les Mamelles de Tiresias. Kurt Weill always cited Offenbach as the model for his own career. During the 1920s, Arnold Schoenberg and Alban Berg joined the intellectual elite of Vienna in regularly attending one man readings of Offenbach operettas by the great Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Today, we delight in his wit and vivacity, the freshness of his musical inspiration, the brilliance of his texts. Though his best work arose from a unique complicity with the Paris of his day, Offenbach transcended his times through his unique, intoxicating artistry.