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Commentary

Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863)
09 Apr 2006

The Guardian on Helen of Troy and Opera

She'll always have Paris

Sexual icon, dark temptress or a smutty comedienne? Helen of Troy has fascinated writers and composers for centuries.

By Tim Ashley [Guardian, 7 April 2006]

Just before Christmas 1864, La Belle Hélène, Offenbach's operetta about Helen of Troy, sex and impending war, opened at the Thêatre des Variétés in Paris. Offenbach had turned the myth of Helen, her elopement with Paris and the build-up to the Trojan conflict into an erotic satire on a hedonistic society oblivious to the fallout from its own actions. In the title role he cast a woman called Hortense Schneider. A great beauty and something of a grande horizontale, she was as famous for her raunchy delivery on stage as for the succession of lovers she took off it; the men in her life included the Prince of Wales, the future Edward VII.

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