On the morning of 5 October 1880, the elderly comic actor Léonce called at the apartment of his old friend Jacques Offenbach near the Paris Opéra. The door was opened by Mathurin, Offenbach’s manservant.
‘How is he?’
‘Monsieur Offenbach is dead; he died quite peacefully, without knowing anything about it.’
‘Ah! – he will be very surprised when he finds out.’
Whether apocryphal or not, this anecdote tells us a lot about Offenbach and how he was perceived as the epitome of French wit and insouciance, reflected in his many popular operettas. Naturally, his story is far more complex than this glib description, and some of the complexity of his life as an outsider, being both German and Jewish, living in Paris, is mirrored in his final, and many would maintain, his greatest opera.