This article was originally published in The Complete Book of Light Opera. Mark Lubbock. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1962. pp. 3-4.

FRENCH Opérette and Opéra bouffe as we know it today began in Paris in the Second Empire. The inventor was an eccentric but highly gifted individual, who called himself Hervé. His real name was Florimond Ronger and he was always known by the nickname "Le Compositeur Tocqué" ("The Crazy Composer"), the title of one of his shows. As a young man, Hervé was appointed organist to a lunatic asylum in Paris called the Bicêtre Hospital, where his mother had charge of the wardrobe. He worked hard to inculcate the principles of music into the minds of the poor mad inmates and was in the habit of organizing concerts and dramatic performances for their benefit. The latter consisted of little musical plays which he wrote himself, and in which the lunatics acted, his idea being to keep their minds off their morbid obsessions. The fame of these performances soon spread abroad and enterprizing theatrical managers came to see them. As a result Hervé was offered the post of conductor at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal, where he rapidly established himself as a successful composer of the genre which he had created in the Opérette. But it was the genius of Offenbach which consolidated and developed what Hervé had invented. In collaboration with two brilliant librettists, Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, Offenbach gave Paris a series of satirical operettas, which enchanted and convulsed his audiences: satires on Court and society, such as La Vie Parisienne, La Belle Hélène, Orphée aux Enfers, Barbe-Bleu; satires on big business in Les Brigands (with much appreciated bon mots like "One must steal according to the position one occupies in society"), and on the army in La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein. Offenbach's satirical operettas were designed specifically for the pleasure-loving public of the Second Empire. But with the coming of the Franco-Prussian War and the fall of the Emperor Napoleon III the mood of Paris changed. People who had starved in the siege were no longer in the mood for frivolity. The Republicans, especially, associated Offenbach with the Imperial regime and regarded his ribaldry as immoral and his satire as merely idle jesting. It was on the crest of the Republican wave that Charles Lecocq sailed into prominence, supplanted Offenbach in public favor and changed the face of the operetta. Lecocq's attitude to the theatre differed fundamentally from that of Offenbach. He regarded it as the home of escapism, and operettas like La Fille de Madame Angot and Le Petit Duc are devoid of any direct and critical bearing on real life. They incline more towards the form of Opéra comique made popular by Auber and Scribe. Lecocq set a fashion, which was followed by subsequent theatre-composers: by Planquette with Les Cloches de Corneville and Audran with La Poupée, La Cigale at la Fourmi and La Mascotte; by Messager with Les P'tites Michu and Véronique and by Reynaldo Hahn with Ciboulette. Other composers worthy of mention are Louis Varney, Louis Ganne, Claude Terrasse and Henri Christiné (who both attempted to revive the Offenbachiade, with Monsieur de la Palisse and Phi-Phi respectively), Maurice Yvain, José Padilla and Francis Lopez.

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