Home: Operetta: Early Days

In France, the operetta as we know it today was born with Adolphe Adam. Up until 1834, he had written in the conventional Opera Comique style, but in La Chalet, he wrote what is considered to be the first true French operetta, light and frivolous with music nearer to the popular vaudeville idiom. Around the same time, Herve was busy composing operetta-esque works. He earned the nickname "loony composer" by endowing the operetta with the crazed irreverence that was his hallmark.

In the mid-nineteenth century, the French government wanted nothing to compete with state-sponsored opera productions, so a law limited independent managers to no more than three speaking or singing characters per libretto. In the face of such absurd restrictions, a German Jewish cellist, Jacques Offenbach, struck an entertaining blow for sanity.

Offenbach came up with a format that blended operatic vocals, catchy melodies and comic plots. Initially rejected by the celebrated Opera Comique, Offenbach leased the fifty seat Theatres des Bouffes-Parisiens and presented one-act comic musicals that he called "operettes". Each had three singers and many included mute characters to help flesh-out the cast.