Opera Scotland

Hortense Schneider Suggest updates

Born Bordeaux, 30 April 1833.

Died Paris, 6 August 1920.

French soprano.

Schneider's greatest contribution to opera was as the first performer of leading roles in several of Offenbach's operettas during the years of the Second Empire, which came to a close with the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. This was followed by the chaos of the Commune, and it took Parisian theatres a short while to recover. It is likely that her acting ability and physical attractions were as important as her voice. She also led a lively private life which kept her in the public eye.

She first worked for Offenbach at the Bouffes-Parisiens, his theatre on the Champs-Élysées, in a now forgotten piece, Les Violoneux (1855). Her star status did not come until she created the title role in La belle Hélène (1864). This was followed by Boulotte in Barbe-bleue (1866) and the title roles in La Grande-duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), La Périchole (1868), and La diva (1869), by which time she was established as the leading artist in her field.

Before going to Paris, she sang in more conventional opera, making her first appearance as Inès in La favorite at Agen in 1853. Her season at the Bouffes-Parisiens, where the repertoire included pieces by several of the leading composers of the day, was followed by two at the Variétés (still with Offenbach) before she moved  to the Palais-Royal for six years of steady, though less well remembered, work. The promise of the role of Helen lured her back to work with Offenbach once more.

As well as her great success in Paris, she performed in St Petersburg (in 1872, when work in Paris was scarce). She visited London for the first time in 1866, and returned almost annually.  When she did an extensive tour of British cities, she performed several of these roles in repertoire, thus establishing the popularity of Offenbach in Britain.

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