23. Tromb-al-ca-zar (Jacques Offenbach)


  • Bouffonnerie musicale in 1 act
  • By Jacques Offenbach
  • Libretto: Charles-Désiré Dupeuty & Ernest Bourget
  • First performed : Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens, 3 April 1856

BEAUJOLAISTenorÉtienne Pradeau
GIGOLETTESopranoHortense Schneider

SETTING: An inn on the coast near Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Basses-Pyrénées, France.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

The prolific Offenbach wrote nearly 60 operas for the Bouffes-Parisiens, the small theatre he founded in 1855 to perform opéra bouffe and pantomime.  Many of the early pieces were limited by law to one-act works, with only four characters.  Some are brilliant, like the chinoiserie musicale Ba-ta-clan.  Others are too topical or suffer from slight plots.

Tromb-al-ca-zar is a case in point.  An innkeeper in the Basses-Pyrénées thinks that a theatrical troupe are really bandits and brigands.  That’s the plot.  The little opera is high-spirited; the music is witty music and the tunes catchy, as always with Offenbach, including a syllabic trio in honour of Bayonnais ham, with a flourish of (pig?) Latin…

… but a modern audience won’t get most of the jokes.

Quick!  Who were Buridan, Gastilbelza, Gaspardo, and Marco Spada?  Can you recognise a quote from Auber‘s Sirène, Adam‘s Chalet, and David’s “Hirondelles?  More – Anglophones: can you get jokes about the difference between rural dialect and theatrical fustian, malapropisms, and French puns about “pau”?

The opera parodies a sub-genre that’s no longer performed: French brigand operas and plays, with dashing heroes who murder their father, poison their mother, and strangle their brother-in-law.  They were performed throughout Europe, but today’s operagoer is only likely to encounter the Italian variety – Verdi‘s Ernani (based on Hugo’s play that shocked the conservative Parisians and wowed the Romantic young Turks) and, more rarely, I masnadieri.

Offenbach would write a funnier opera about bandits 13 years later.  Les brigands contrasts honest criminals with corruption in the Second Empire  – but we don’t need to know the satirical target for this to be funny,.  Tromb-al-ca-zar is too specific a spoof.  That’s the problem with parody; it requires some knowledge of what is being parodied.


RTBF recording, conducted by Alfred Walter.  Starring Albert Voli (Beaujolais), Claudine Granger (Gigolette), Jacques Legrand (Ignace), and Yerry Mertz (Vert-Panné).


Beaujolais (tenor): Étienne Pradeau


Vert-Panné (baritone): Léonce




  1.  Recit et Air: Ô rage ! ô désespoir !
  2. Trio: Le crocodile, en partant
  3. Trio: Détallons
  4. Couplets: La Gitana, ah ! rêvez bien
  5. Trio: Un jambon de Bayonne
  6. Quatuor: Un beau jour
  7. Introduction, Valse et Reprise du Trio du jambon


Albert de Lasalle, Histoire des Bouffes-Parisiens, 1860

The part Léonce played in this play consisted of a costume thus composed: a Roman helmet, a collar in the style of Henri IV, a doublet, a cloak in the style of Henri II, a bright orange jersey, a cuirassier’s sabre and leather cavalry boots (à chaudron). The play was dialogued precisely in this extra-burlesque style. There were verses which praised the charms of the Bayonne ham, which was a great honor for the departmental delicatessen.

(Source: Art Lyrique Français)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

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