Belle Helene, La

Composer: Offenbach, Jacques 1819 - 1880

Version: Opera bouffe in three acts from the original by H. Meilhac and L. Halevy English translation by Geoffrey Dunn Music by Jacques Offenbach

The second of Offenbach’s highly diverting satires on a well-known legend, La belle Hélène was an instant success with both the public and the critics upon its opening in 1864. SYNOPSIS: Sparta. Preparations for the celebration mourning Adonis are under way. Helen of Sparta appears, accompanied by the mourners, and confides to High Priest Calchas that she is obsessed with Paris, whom Venus has promised the most beautiful woman in the world - her! Calchas sends Helen away and, as he is preparing a sacrifice, a shepherd arrives and then a dove, carrying a letter. Venus has written to Calchas, commanding him to procure for Paris the love of Helen, as promised to him by Venus. Dumbfounded, Calchas recognises the shepherd as Paris, son of King Priam. Helen appears, and falls in love with Paris at first sight. The kings of Greece, the two Ajaxes, the hot-headed Achilles and King Menelaus (the King of Sparta and Helen’s husband),  are present for the day of intelligence, but it is Paris who is triumphant in the competition to find the sharpest mind. He is awarded the prize by a quaking Helen. Menelaus then invites him to dinner. Paris wants to be alone with Helen and Calchas arranges it for him, with a simulated thunderbolt and improvised prophecy ordering the King to spend a month in the mountains of Crete. Helen tries to resist her attraction to Paris, but asks Calchas for a dream in which she sees Paris. As she falls asleep, Paris enters her bedroom disguised as a slave. Helen thinks she is dreaming and the two begin to kiss. Unfortunately, they are interrupted by Menelaus, who returns unexpectedly. He is seething with rage and asks for the kings to come. However much Helen and Paris explain that a husband should not return home without warning, he does not listen. Paris is sent to Troy, but threatens that he will return. Venus takes revenge by forcing an erotic frenzy on the people of Greece. Menelaus invites the High Priest of Venus from Cythera to make amends. The priest arrives on a boat and announces that only if Helen goes with him on a short journey will Venus forgive them. Menelaus accepts. Helen recognises the Priest to be Paris and eventually accepts. They sail away. Helen now belongs to Paris, thus precipitating the Trojan War.

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