Ludovic Halévy (ah-lay-vee) was fortunate in his artistic background. His father, Léon Halévy, was a poet and a versatile writer; his uncle was a successful opera librettist; and his grandfather was a noted architect. Born in Paris in 1834, he attended the Lycée Louis-le-Grand and at eighteen, entered the civil service and held various minor governmental posts until 1865, when he retired to devote his entire time to writing.
Halévy had met Jacques Offenbach in 1855, and the latter’s Orphée aux enfers (1858; Orpheus in the Underworld, 1865), for which Halévy did a prologue, made the young writer famous. In 1860, Halévy met Henri Meilhac, with whom he wrote a total of seventy-nine theatrical works. The influence of Halévy’s uncle may have had much to do with his early interest in the stage. Perhaps the most famous comic opera for which the two collaborators wrote a libretto was La Périchole. Both writers did their best work in depicting lighthearted scenes of Paris life, scenes which displayed their wit and penetrating observation. Halévy’s best-known libretto was written on Alexandre-César-Léopold Bizet’s Carmen.
After 1881, Halévy turned his powers of observation to more serious creation in his novels. The most famous of these, and the one work for which he will always be remembered, is The Abbé Constantin, a tale of human benevolence that won him entrance into the French Academy. Halévy did almost no writing in his last years, but he encouraged and aided younger writers. He died in Paris on May 8, 1908, beloved for his kindness and admired for his graceful, penetrating wit.