Offenbach’s comic retelling of how the Trojan war began treats the legend with more than a pinch of salt. The ridiculous plot follows Paris’s wooing of the beautiful Helene. She has been promised to him by the goddess Venus, despite being married to King Menelaus. Disguised as a shepherd, Paris steals her heart with his good looks and intelligence, by winning a contest of wits. Disguised as a slave he gains access to her bedroom and steals a kiss while she believes herself to be dreaming. Then finally, disguised as the High Priest of Venus, he steals Helene herself, with her husband cheering them on. He takes her off to Troy and thus begins the Trojan war.
The often anachronistic humor and down-to-earth characters really bring this story alive, and Offenbach’s frothy score keeps audiences bouncing along right to the very end.
La belle Hélène guide sections