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By 1858, when Offenbach was finally allowed a large enough cast to do the theme justice, Halévy was preoccupied with his work as a senior civil servant, and the final libretto was credited to Crémieux alone.
Eurydice has discovered what she thinks is a plot by Orphée to kill Aristée – letting snakes loose in the fields – but is in fact a conspiracy between Orphée and Pluton to kill her, so that Pluton may have her and Orphée be rid of her.
Pluton tricks her into walking into the trap by showing immunity to it, and she is bitten.
Her efforts are hampered by the facts of the matter: Orphée is not the son of Apollo, as in classical myth, but a rustic teacher of music, whose dislike of his wife, Eurydice, is heartily reciprocated.
She is in love with the shepherd, Aristée (Aristaeus), who lives next door ("La femme dont le coeur rêve"), and Orphée is in love with Chloë, a shepherdess.
Albert Lasalle, in his history of the Bouffes-Parisiens (1860), wrote that the piece closed in June 1859 – although it was still performing strongly at the box-office – "because the actors, who could not tire the public, were themselves exhausted".
In 1874 Offenbach substantially expanded the piece, doubling the length of the score and turning the intimate opéra bouffon of 1858 into a four-act opéra féerie extravaganza, with substantial ballet sequences.
In 1858 the licensing restrictions were relaxed, and Offenbach was free to go ahead with a two-act work that had been in his mind for some time.
Two years earlier he had told his friend the writer Hector Crémieux that, when he was musical director of the Comédie-Française in the early 1850s, he swore revenge for the boredom he suffered from the posturings of mythical heroes and gods of Olympus in the plays presented there.
The opera is a lampoon of the ancient legend of Orpheus and Eurydice.
In this version Orpheus is not the son of Apollo but a rustic violin teacher.