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From 1835 to 1855 he earned his living as a cellist, achieving international fame, and as a conductor.His ambition, however, was to compose comic pieces for the musical theatre.Isaac Offenbach's views on his son's conversion from Judaism are unknown.He amused the comtesse de Vaux's 200 guests with a parody of Félicien David's currently fashionable Le désert, and in April 1846 gave a concert at which seven operatic items of his own composition were premiered before an audience that included leading music critics.His works from this period included La belle Hélène (1864), La Vie parisienne (1866), La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867) and La Périchole (1868).The risqué humour (often about sexual intrigue) and mostly gentle satiric barbs in these pieces, together with Offenbach's facility for melody, made them internationally known, and translated versions were successful in Vienna, London and elsewhere in Europe.

At the conservatoire, Jules was a diligent student; he graduated and became a successful violin teacher and conductor, and led his younger brother's orchestra for several years.

In 1858, Offenbach produced his first full-length operetta, Orphée aux enfers ("Orpheus in the Underworld"), which was exceptionally well received and has remained one of his most played works.

During the 1860s, he produced at least 18 full-length operettas, as well as more one-act pieces.

Offenbach became associated with the Second French Empire of Napoleon III; the emperor and his court were genially satirised in many of Offenbach's operettas.

Napoleon III personally granted him French citizenship and the Légion d'Honneur.

Finding the management of Paris' Opéra-Comique company uninterested in staging his works, in 1855 he leased a small theatre in the Champs-Élysées.