Barbe-bleue (opera)

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[1] based on Charles Perrault's 1697 story.

Performance history

The work was composed while Offenbach was travelling during 1865, in Vienna, Brussels and Cologne, conducting his works in those cities.[2] Other distractions during the period were the marriage on 9 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).[3]

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.[4] Contemporary critics judged the libretto to be one of the best constructed the composer set.[4]

Productions outside France followed swiftly: London, Vienna and Brussels in 1866, Stockholm, Berlin, Budapest, Milan and Copenhagen in 1867.[5] 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.[6]

The work was revived in 1888 at the Variétés in Paris with Jeanne Granier as Boulotte. A 1904 Paris revival included Baron as Bobèche, Ève Lavallière as Hermia and Tariol as Boulotte.[4] In 1941, Mikael Fokine's final choreography consisted of a ballet reworking by Antal Doráti, staged in Mexico.[4] 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.[1] 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.[4]

In the 11th Offenbach staging of his career, Laurent Pelly created a new production in Lyon in June 2019. The title role was sung by Yann Beuron, with Héloïse Mas as Boulotte, Christophe Mortagne as Bobêche and Christophe Gay as Popolani; Michele Spotti was in the pit.[7]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, February 5, 1866,[8]
(Conductor: Offenbach)
Barbe-Bleue tenor José Dupuis
Alvarez tenor Edouard Hamburger
Boulotte, a peasant woman soprano Hortense Schneider
King Bobèche tenor Jean-Laurent Kopp
Queen Clémentine mezzo-soprano Aline Duval
Princess Hermia, daughter of the king
(In Act 1, Fleurette, a peasant girl
soprano Georgette Vernet
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
First page soprano Jenny
Second page soprano Taillefer
A clerk spoken Horton
A child spoken Mathilde
Peasants, Barbe-Bleue's guards, courtiers, pages and Bobèche's guards


Act 1

SCENE: A small rural village with the castle of Squire Bluebeard prominent

King Bobèche, not wanting a girl as his heir, abandoned his daughter Hermia when she was three years old. Now aged eighteen and living as a shepherdess under the assumed name Fleurette, she is in love with the young and attractive shepherd boy Saphir but is not happy that he has not yet proposed marriage to her. The King's chamberlain Oscar discovers that the shepherdess "Fleurette" is really the Princess Hermia and requires her to return to the King's court, which however means she must leave the boy she loves. Squire Bluebeard has recently lost his fifth wife and sends his alchemist Popolani to the village to find a virginal young peasant girl to become his sixth wife. Popolani decides to choose a wife for the squire by holding a raffle, but the winner turns out to be the anything but virginal Boulotte. Bluebeard is delighted with his new wife.

Act 2

SCENE ONE: The royal palace

King Bobèche wants to increase his glory and is practicing court etiquette. He is delighted to welcome his long lost daughter back to his side and to find her a royal bridegroom. Fleurette resists any thought of marriage until she discovers, to her joy, that her intended mate is Saphir, not a shepherd boy as she had thought, but a prince who had disguised himself as such to be near her, since he was madly besotted by her. Squire Bluebeard comes to pay King Bobèche a visit and to show off his new wife Boulotte, but is instantly smitten by Princess Hermia.

SCENE TWO: Popolani's dungeon

Bluebeard orders Popolani to dispose of his new wife Boulotte as, he thinks, Popolani has disposed of all his previous wives by poisoning them, so that Bluebeard can marry Hermia. But Popolani has only been pretending to kill Bluebeard's wives, in fact he has only been giving them sleeping pills, not poison, and they have all been living in comfortable apartments. Bluebeard witnesses, in the midst of a storm, what he thinks is the murder of his latest wife Boulotte, but after she wakes up from the sleeping potion, the feisty young lady leads the other "dead" wives in a march on the castle.

Act 3

SCENE: The chapel in the royal palace

Hermia and Saphir are entering the chapel for their marriage when Bluebeard interrupts the procession and demands by force of arms, having the palace surrounded by his military forces, that Hermia be surrendered to him as his seventh wife, Boulotte, as he thinks, having died. But he is embarrassed by the selfsame Boulotte turning up leading in a furious procession of his other "dead" wives. They are accompanied by five lords who were also supposedly put to death for having flirted with Queen Clémentine. The solution is found- the "dead" lords will marry the "dead" wives, Bluebeard will stay with Boulotte and the marriage of Hermia and Saphir can proceed.[9][10]


See also



  1. Lamb A. Barbe-bleue. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  2. Offenbach : correspondances avec Meilhac et Halévy. In: Programme book for Barbe-Bleue, Opéra du Rhin, 1996, p85-87.
  3. Dufresne, Claude. Barbe-Bleue: les tourbillons de sa création. In: Programme book for Barbe-Bleue, Opéra du Rhin, 1996, p91-94.
  4. Yon, Jean-Claude. Variations autour de Barbe-Bleue. In: Programme book for Barbe-Bleue, Opéra du Rhin, 1996, p64-75.
  5. Loewenberg A. Annals of Opera. London, John Calder, 1978.
  6. Cesky hudebny slovnik; Retrieved 21 April 2013
  7. Erna Metdepenninghen. Report from Lyon. Opera, October 2019, Vol.70 No.10, p1279-80.
  8. 1866 Libretto, in WikiSource
  9. "Barbe-bleue". Opérette – Théâtre Musical. Retrieved 23 June 2018.
  10. Lamb,Andrew. "Barbe-bleue". In Deane L. Root (ed.). Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)


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