Jacques Offenbach (20 June 1819[n 1] – 5 October 1880) was a Prussian-born French composer and cellist. He is remembered for his nearly 100 operettas of the 1850s–1870s and his uncompleted opera The Tales of Hoffmann. He was a powerful influence on later composers of the operetta genre, particularly Johann Strauss, Jr. and Arthur Sullivan. His best-known works were continually revived during the 20th century and continue to be staged in the 21st.
Born in Cologne, the son of a synagogue cantor, Offenbach showed early musical talent. At the age of 14, he was accepted as a student at the Paris Conservatoire but found academic study unfulfilling and left after a year. From 1835 to 1855 he earned his living as a cellist, achieving international fame. His ambition, however, was to compose comic pieces for the musical theatre. Finding the management of Paris’s Opéra-Comique company uninterested in staging his works, in 1855 he leased a small theatre in the Champs-Élysées. There he presented a series of his own small-scale pieces, many of which became popular.
In 1858, Offenbach produced his first full-length operetta, Orphée aux enfers (“Orpheus in the Underworld”), which was exceptionally well received and has remained one of his most played works. During the 1860s, he produced 18 full-length operettas, as well as 15 more one-act pieces. His works from this period included La belle Hélène (1864), La vie parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867) and La Périchole (1868). The risqué humour (often about sexual intrigue) and mostly gentle satiric barbs in these pieces, together with Offenbach’s facility for melody, made them internationally known, and translated versions were successful in Vienna, London and elsewhere in Europe.
Offenbach became associated with the Second French Empire of Napoleon III; the emperor and his court were genially satirised in many of Offenbach’s operettas. Napoleon personally granted him French citizenship and the Légion d’Honneur. When the empire collapsed in 1870 after defeat in the crucial battle of the Franco-Prussian War, Offenbach found himself out of favour in Paris because of his imperial connections and his German birth. He remained successful in Vienna and London. After a popular U.S. tour, he re-established himself in Paris during the 1870s, with revivals of some of his earlier favourites and a series of new works. In his last years he was unable to complete The Tales of Hoffmann, but the opera has entered the standard repertory in versions completed or edited by other musicians and musicologists.