"Les oiseaux dans la charmille" Lyrics, Translation, History, and More

Olympia's Aria from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann

Erin Morley, with Brian Zeger on piano, performing aria from Offenbach's opera, Les contes d'Hoffmann, at the Concert in Honor of Richard Tucker's 100th Birthday in Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell in New York City on Wednesday night, August 28, 2013.
Erin Morley, with Brian Zeger on piano, performing aria from Offenbach's opera, Les contes d'Hoffmann, at the Concert in Honor of Richard Tucker's 100th Birthday in Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell in New York City on Wednesday night, August 28, 2013. Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images

"Les oiseaux dans la charmille" from Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann is a magnificent soprano aria that not too many soprano's can successfully perform.  This difficult aria is sung in the opera's first act after Spalanzani, an inventor, creates his greatest invention yet: a mechanical doll named Olympia.  Since the inventor has lost a great sum of money, he hopes Olympia will bring in much needed wealth.

 Spalanzani throws a large party and invites as many people as he can.  Hoffmann is the first to arrive, and upon seeing Olympia, he falls head over heals for her.  Oblivious to her true nature, Hoffmann believes her to be a real woman.  Nicklausse, Hoffmann's friend, unsuccessfully warns him that Olympia is a mechanical doll, but Nicklausse didn't know that the mad scientist Coppelius sold Hoffmann a magic pair of glasses that makes Olympia seem human.  After Coppelius and Spalanzani argue over the doll's profits, Olympia takes center stage and captivatingly performs "Les Oiseaux Dans la Charmille".  Despite Olympia's need for the frequent rewinding of her mechanical gears to continue singing the aria, Hoffmann remains in the dark about her identity.  Read the full synopsis of Les Contes d'Hoffmann to find out what happens next.

French Lyrics

Les oiseaux dans la charmille
Dans les cieux l'astre du jour,
Tout parle à la jeune fille d'amour!


Ah! Voilà la chanson gentille
La chanson d'Olympia! Ah!

Tout ce qui chante et résonne
Et soupire, tour à tour,
Emeut son coeur qui frissonne d'amour!
Ah! Voilà la chanson mignonne
La chanson d'Olympia! Ah!

English Translation

The birds in the arbor,
The sky's daytime star,
Everything speaks to a young girl of love!


Ah! This is the gentile song,
The song of Olympia! Ah!

Everything that sings and resonates
And sighs, in turn,
Moves his heart, which shudders of love!
Ah! This is the lovely song,
The song of Olympia! Ah!

Recommended Listening

Not many sopranos can successfully perform Offenbach's "Les oiseaux dans la charmille" - the music requires a nimble, yet strong, lyric coloratura soprano voice capable of incredible ornamentations and range.  Despite its challenges, there are a handful of performers who come to mind.  Each can sing the aria and make it seem as if it were as second nature as "Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star".

  • The one soprano I think takes the cake - Natalie Dessay. Here's a DailyMotion clip of her singing "Les Oiseaux Dans la Charmille".
  • Rachele Gilmore's performance as Olympia in her Metropolitan Opera debut is both humorous and brilliantly sung.  Watch this YouTube video and see for yourself.
  • Diana Damrau's off-the-wall performance at the Bavarian State Opera makes me laugh every time I see it.  Though she doesn't sing the high notes like Dessay and Gilmore, her performance isn't any less impressive.  Watch Damrau's performance in this YouTube video.

The History of Les contes d'Hoffmann

Librettists Jules Barbier and Michel Carré (who also worked together and wrote the libretto for Charles Gounod's Romeo et Juliette) wrote a play  called Les contes fantastiques d'Hoffmann, which composer Jacques Offenbach happened to see at the Odéon Theatre in Paris in 1851.

 Twenty-five years later, Offenbach found out that Barbier rewrote the play and adapted it as a musical.  The opera is based on three tales by E.T.A. Hoffmann: "Der Sandmann" (The Sandman) (1816), "Rath Krespel" (Councillor Krespel) (1818), and "Das verlorene Spiegelbild" (The Lost Reflection) (1814).  At first, Hector Salomon was to write the music, but when Offenbach returned from America, Salomon gave the project to Offenbach.  It took five years for Offenbach to finish composing the music - he was distracted by taking on easier projects that brought in steady income for him.  Sadly, four months before the opera's opening, Offenbach died.  The opera premiered on February 10, 1881.