On this day in classical music: Composer Jacques Offenbach was born in Cologne, Germany in 1819. The French composer created dozens of operettas during his lifetime, including “Orpheus in the Underworld,” “La belle Helene,” “La Grande-Duchesse de Gerolstein,” “La Perichole” and “The Drum Major’s Daughter.” Offenbach began his opera “The Tales of Hoffmann.” At the time of his death, he had completed the vocal score and had begun the orchestration. Ernest Guiraud completed the work and it was premiered in 1881. A prologue and epilogue frame the opera’s three acts, each one focusing on one of Hoffmann’s loves: the mechanical doll Olympia, the courtesan Giulietta and the singer Antonia. While the opera is full of memorable melodies, the famous “Barcarolle” from the Giulietta act is a standout. Listen to Barry Wordsworth and the BBC Concert Orchestra play the “Barcarolle” from “The Tales of Hoffmann.” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OydPTyEo9SI
On this day in the musical theatre: A somewhat unexpected hit when it opened on Broadway in April 2002, “Thoroughly Modern Millie” closed after a profitable run of 904 performances. This multiple Tony Award-winning musical proved to be a breakout hit for Sutton Foster. Plucked from the chorus when star Erin Dilly didn’t work out, Foster proved to be a genuine triple threat, that rare performer who is equally proficient at singing, dancing and acting. In the decade that followed, Foster worked almost non-stop, taking on leading roles in “Little Women,” “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Young Frankenstein” and “Shrek the Musical.” Last year, Foster headed the cast of a revival of “Anything Goes” and picked up a second Tony Award. Listen to Sutton Foster and the cast of “Thoroughly Modern Millie” perform “Forget About the Boy” at the 2002 Tony Awards. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1GVVpzTNEpA
Musical musings: Much as he wrote, Offenbach was always original. We recognize his music as Offenbach-ish after only two or three bars, and this fact alone raises him high above his French and German imitators, whose buffo operas would shrivel up miserably were we to confiscate all that is Offenbach-ish in them. He created a new style in which he reigned absolutely alone. Offenbach’s music, despite the ethnic background (Jewish) of the man, is as French as Strauss’ is Viennese. It is clean, uncluttered, unsentimental, pointed, classic. If it reflects the frivolity of the age, it does so with extreme wit and sophistication. No music has ever lived unless it has originality, and Offenbach, who could be hasty and formula-ridden, could also rise to moments of great melodic invention. – From The Lives of the Great Composers by Harold C. Schonberg.