Offenbach’s “Oyayïae, ou La Reine des îles” At Cologne’s New Year’s Concert

Kevin Clarke / Kurt Gänzl
Operetta Research Center
3 January, 2019

To mark the occasion, the city of Cologne and the local Gürzenich Orchestra inaugurate the festivities for Offenbach’s 200th birthday with an extraordinary New Year’s concert on 6 January. At the Cologne Philharmonie they present the first modern-day performance of the one-act ‘cannibal’ operetta Oyayïae, ou La Reine des îles. The mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reker, and the Minister President of North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, will be present for this ‘man devouring’ musical experience.

The young Jacques Offenbach playing the cello. A caricature from the 1840s.

The young Jacques Offenbach playing the cello. A caricature from the 1840s.

Alexandre Bloch conducts the Gürzenich Orchestra and has tenors are Mattias Klink and Mark Milhofer, as the south sea’s queen Oyayaye and as the ship wrecked contrabass player Racle-à-mort. The latter has to play for his survival – not unlike cello virtuoso Offenbach in his early days in Paris.

Oyayaïe is virtually unknown today. In his Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre, Kurt Gänzl writes: “When Offenbach was nominated conductor at the Théâtre Français in 1850, a post which led him to be called upon to supply such scenic and incidental music and/or songs as might be required for that theatre’s productions, did he succeed in getting one of his opérettes produced. Then in 1855, he launched himself on the Parisian stage from two different fronts.”

A caricature showing Offenbach's first theatre, the original Bouffes-Parisiens in 1855.

A caricature showing Offenbach’s first theatre, the original Bouffes-Parisiens in 1855.

“On the one hand, with the help of a finely imagined and funny text by Jules Moinaux, he managed to place one of his opérettes at Hervé’s Folies-Nouvelles. This piece, Oyayïae, ou La Reine des îles, was in a different vein from his previous works, works which had been written rather in the style of a Massé or an Adam, with the polite portals of the Opéra-Comique in sight.”

A caricature of composer Hervé.

A caricature of composer Hervé.

According to Kurt Gänzl, Oyayaïe was written “in the new burlesque style initiated and encouraged by Hervé, and it rippled with ridiculous and extravagantly idiotic fun.”

There was not a milkmaid or a Marquis in sight and the show was peopled instead by the folk of burlesque with Hervé himself at their head, in travesty, as the titular and cannibalistic Queen of the Islands.

“By the time that Oyayaïe had found her way to the stage, however, Offenbach had already set another project on its way. The year 1855 was the year of the Paris Exhibition, and the city’s purveyors of entertainment were preparing for lucratively larger audiences than were usual as visitors from out of town and overseas poured into Paris. It seemed like a good time to be in the business. Thus, Offenbach, who had managed the production of his early unwanted works himself and who now saw Hervé presenting his own works successfully at the Folies-Nouvelles, decided to become a manager.”

The ladies at Offenbach's new theatre Bouffes-Parisiens.

The ladies at Offenbach’s new theatre Bouffes-Parisiens.

The rest is history, as they say. But Oyayïae has been more or less forgotten. Now, it will have its belated premiere in Germany.

Together with overture from the 1864 opera Rheinnixen and the 1840 cello concert piece Grande scène espagnole op. 22; Pablo Ferrández is the soloist.

To round things off, there‘s also music from Die schöne Helena (1864) and Pariser Leben, as the shows have become known in the German speaking world. There’s also a waltz from the opéra comique Barkouf (1860) which was recently revived at the opera house of Strasbourg.

Jacques Offenbach photographed by Nadar in the 1860s.

Jacques Offenbach photographed by Nadar in the 1860s.

Let’s hope that someone is recording “Oyayaye, oder die Königin der Inseln,“ which seems to be given in the French original by Jules Moinaux.

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There is one comment

  1. peh

    please note: oyayaye was sung by hagen matzeit and radio broadcast will be on january 11th on wdr3.