Last night, I attended Melbourne Grammar’s first term concert for 2014. On top of enjoying the splendid performance put up by the boys, which the crowd appreciated with thunderous applause at the end, I learnt something new and bemusing! Would you believe that the famous Can-Can melody originated in the 1800’s? I know I am not your serious music bug who would’ve known this right from the onset but seriously, who would have. So, as the performance took on Jacques Offenbach’s “Overture to Orpheus in the Underworld”, I barely recognized the title but I instantly recognized the tune!! I could see smiles flashing across faces in the audience as everyone appreciated this very popular tune with the Can Can dance.
So, how did it all start? Well here it is from reading the concert programme.
History goes that Offenbach, in trying to save his little theatre in Paris from drowning in debt, created a musical satire based on Orpheus and Euridice. It went unnoticed until a review of critic Jules Janin appeared lambasting the production as “a profanation of holy and glorious antiquity in a spirit of irreverence that bordered on blasphemy”. Then, as it so happens now, this verbal dressing down captured everyone’s attention. Curious as to what great NO, NO is being committed in this little theatre on Champs Elysees, Parisians flocked to this production in numbers. As you would expect, it turned into an onvernight success. In fact, it was in such demand that the operetta played for 228 consecutive days before it stopped briefly to give its performers a much needed break!
In a world pre-television, imagine what perceptions this write up by Mark Twain would have had on his visit to Paris in 1867 describing Can Can: “The idea is to dance as wildly, as noisily, as furiously as you can, expose yourself as much as possible, if you are a woman, and kick as high as you can – no matter which sex you belong to.”
So, I reckon it is no surprise that the dance and music took Europe and America by storm. And the rest they say, is history.