Born on June 20, 1819 in Cologne, son of a synagogue cantor, Jacques (Jacob) Offenbach began composing at the age of nine and showed great talent for the cello. His father sent him to study in Paris, the only city at the time where a Jewish musician could hope to make a career. At the age of fourteen, he was admitted by dispensation to the Paris Conservatory, then directed by Luigi Cherubini. He joined the Opéra Comique Orchestra as a cellist, where he was noticed by Jacques Halévy. The revolution of 1848 forced him to return temporarily to Cologne. On his return in 1850, he was appointed conductor at the Théâtre Français. In 1855, he composed La Reine des îles, which met with some success, and founded the Bouffes-Parisiens theater, which he directed until 1866. There he created many of his works, including his first great success, Orphée aux Enfers (1858). With the librettists Meilhac and Halévy, he created the French opéra-bouffe. Masterpieces follow one another: La Belle Hélène (1864), Bluebeard (1866), La Vie parisienne and La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), La Périchole (1868), etc. Offenbach's work reflects the joie de vivre and insouciance of the time, while conveying a certain political and social criticism. From then on, he reigned over the musical scene of the Second Empire, but the 1870 war with Germany dealt a fatal blow to his success in France and he had to leave Paris once again. Back in the capital in 1871, he adopted the fashion of the patriotic comic opera with Madame Favart and La Fille du tambour-major. In 1873, he took over the direction of the Gaîté Lyrique where he created Le Voyage dans la lune (Journey to the Moon), but the theater soon went bankrupt. Ruined and plagued by gout and rheumatism, Offenbach died on October 4, 1880 in Paris before he could complete Les Contes d'Hoffmann, the work that would make him a "serious composer.
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