The Bandits by Jacques Offenbach

In 2024, the Frankfurt Opera presented the first Frankfurt staging (ever) of the three-act comic opera The Bandits (in German Die Banditen, in the original French Les brigands) by Jacques Offenbach, to a text by his long-time librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy.

This lively and funny opéra-bouffe had its world premiere in 1869 at the Théâtre des Variétés in Paris. It was a great success at the time, but is not as well-known today as some of Offenbach’s earlier comic operas such as Orpheus in the Underworld (1858), La belle Hélène (1864) and La Péricole (1868).

In the Frankfurt program booklet, the stage director Katharina Thoma explains: “The Bandits actually came too late. They no longer quite fit into the spirit of the time at the end of the Second Empire, which was characterized by the desire to indulge in amusement, luxury and decadence. In 1870/71 the Franco-German War broke out and the mentality changed completely.”

Frankfurt program booklet for The Bandits

She describes The Bandits as “a masterpiece, but one that has received too little attention in the history of its reception.”

The first act of The Bandits takes place in a deep dark forest in the mountains, as shown on the cover of the program booklet (photo by Barbara Aumüller).

In the middle of the stage there is a small guard house and a border crossing. This turns out to be the border between Spain and Italy, which of course is a joke because Spain and Italy do not have a land border, but are separated by more than 500 km of southern France.

The leader of the bandits has a daughter, Fiorella, sung in Frankfurt by the soprano Elizabeth Reiter. In the first act, she makes her entrance by swinging in on a rope — as shown at the beginning of the trailer.

Fiorella confesses to her father that she has started having scruples about robbing people, especially since she fell in love with Fragoletto, a young organic farmer whose house they recently burglarized.

Fragoletto is a trouser role, sung by the mezzo-soprano Kelsey Lauritano, who has had a string of good roles lately. For example, she was Paolo (another trouser role) in Mercadante’s Francesca da Rimini. She was also Lichas in Händel’s Hercules, Suzuki in Puccini’s Madama Butterfly and Emilia in Rossini’s Otello.

Applause at the end of The Bandits in Frankfurt

Others in the cast of The Bandits included Yves Saelens and Michael McCown as members of the robber band, Peter Marsh as the Duke of Mantua, Theo Lebow as the Baron of Campotasso, Dietrich Volle as the Captain of the Carabinieri and Juanita Lascarro as the Princess of Granada. The conductor was Karsten Januschke.

In the third act, Fiorella again makes her entrance by swinging in on a rope, but this time it is even more of a joke since the third act takes place indoors, in the ducal palace in Mantua. In this act, the robbers try to steal three million Euros, only to discover that the money has already been stolen (and spent, on women) by the duke’s treasurer.

(Except for those who lived in earlier centuries, such as Jacques Offenbach, Henri Meilhac, Ludovic Halévy and Francesca da Rimini, all the people mentioned by name in this post have come at least once as featured guests to meetings of my opera appreciation courses Opern-Gespräche and Frankfurt OperaTalk.)

My photos and text in this post are from 2024.

See more posts on the composer Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880).

3 thoughts on “The Bandits by Jacques Offenbach”

I appreciate your feedback!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.