By Tim Ashley [Guardian, 7 April 2006]
Just before Christmas 1864, La Belle HÈlËne, Offenbach’s operetta about Helen of Troy, sex and impending war, opened at the ThÍatre des VariÈtÈs 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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image_description=Helen of Troy by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (1863)