Scene from Sadler’s Wells Opera's production of Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène
Sadler's Wells Theatre, London
This scene is from Sadler’s Wells Opera's 1963 production of Offenbach’s La Belle Hélène. This was an hilarious satire on the French Second Empire morals and manners in the guise of the classical myth of Helen of Sparta’s abduction by Paris. Offenbach’s comic operas have never been regularly performed in Britain, being too frivolous for the grand opera houses and too esoteric for the West End. So it was a rare treat in the early 1960s when Sadler’s Wells Opera produced his three best-known works, Orpheus in the Underworld, La Vie Parisienne and La Belle Hélène. Helen, the most beautiful woman in the world, was in the capable shape and voice of Rotherham-born Joyce Blackham. As one review observed, La Belle Hélène showed rather more of her than the average opera. She was especially delicious performing a Victorian-style striptease after Helen awakes to find Paris in her bedroom, drifting around the room shedding her clothes, persuading herself in song that this was only a dream, or if not, it was her destiny, so either way it was all right. Everyone had a good time and one critic found her knee-length netcurtain bloomers 'uncommonly titillating'.