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alternatively Crotchet  

Orphée aux Enfers
, Belle Hélène, Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein

Soloists, Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble; Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
no rec. dates and venues given; published 1998–2005
VIRGIN CLASSICS 3913442 [76:59]

Jacques OFFENBACH (1819–1880)
Orphée aux Enfers, (1858), Highlights
1. Ah! C’est ainsi! [5:20]
2. La mort m’apparaît souriante [2:17]
3. Eh hop! hop! [1:52]
4. Pour séduire Alcmène [2:29]
5. Bel insecte à l’aile dorée [3:28]
6. Vive la vin! Vive Pluton! [2:04]
7. Ce bal est original [1:49]
Yann Beuron (tenor) – Orphée; Natalie Dessay (soprano) – Eurydice; Laurent Naouri (baritone) – Jupiter; Jean-Paul Fouchécourt (tenor) – Aristée; Pluton; Etienne Lescroart (tenor) – Mercure; Virginie Pochon (soprano) – Minerve; Jennifer Smith (soprano) – Diane; Patricia Petibon (soprano) – Cupidon; Véronique Gens (soprano) – Vénus; Steven Cole (baritone) – John Styx
Orchestre et Choeur de l’Opéra National de Lyon; Orchestre de Chambre de Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
La Belle Hélène (1864), Highlights
8. Overture [1:28]
9. C’est le devoir des jeunes filles [1:43]
10. Amours divins [3:30]
11. Voici les rois de la Grèce [4:02]
12. On me nomme Hélène la blonde [4:15]
13. Le voici le roi des rois [0:56]
14. Je la vois, elle dort [3:01]
15. Dansons, aimons, buvons, chantons [4:58]
16. Lorsque la Grèce est un champ de carnage [2:59]
17. Et tout d’abord, ô vile multitude [3:13]
Felicity Lott (soprano) – Hélène; Yann Beuron (tenor) – Pâris; Laurent Naouri (baritone) – Agamemnon; Alain Gabriel, Laurent Alvaro (tenor) – Les 2 Ajax; Marie-Ange Todorovitch (mezzo) – Oreste; François Le Roux (bass) – Calchas; Eric Huchet (baritone) – Achille; Michel Sénéchal (tenor) – Ménélas
Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble; Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (1867), Highlights
18. A cheval sur la discipline [1:40]
19. Ah! Que j’aime les militaries [2:32]
20. Ah! C’est un fameux regiment [3:17]
21. Voici le sabre de mon père [3:23]
22. Dites-lui qu’on l’a remarqué [4:34]
23. Le carillon de ma grand-mère [4:09]
24. A cheval! A cheval! [2:52]
25. Il était un de mes aïeux [2:19]
26. Et bien, Altresse, me voilà, hôlala! [1:42]
Felicity Lott (soprano) – La Grande-Duchesse; Yann Beuron (tenor) – Fritz; François Le Roux (bass) – Boum; Frank Leguérinel (baritone) – Puck; Sandrine Piau (soprano) – Wanda;
Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble; Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble/Marc Minkowski

Catchy, vivacious, with well-sprung rhythms, thoroughly idiomatically conducted and with characterful and enviably assured vocal performances from a plethora of Gallic specialists; how could you want for more in your single Offenbach starter disc?

At the helm is Marc Minkowski who proves once again that he’s no mere baroque egghead. There aren’t many around these days who can match his consistency throughout these highlights, or indeed his conversational ease on the rostrum.

The highlights from Orphée aux Enfers offer a plethora of exciting things. Nathalie Dessay’s coloratura is fervidly evident in Ah! C’est ainsi! where her wheedling, needling, nagging characterisation reaches a zenith of believability. Yann Beuron’s upright warm tenor sounds commendably stoical if also bludgeoned and put-upon by Dessay’s shrill assaults. But she can subtly colour the voice as well, something one notes in the Duo de la mouche where her comedic powers are also given full rein. At the helm Minkowski leads a nicely articulated Can-Can – the Galop infernal is persuasively phrased by winds and strings.

La Belle Hélène is similarly impressive. The March rhythms of the overture are well textured and lithe – spruce in a word, and the choir sounds well drilled. Felicity Lott is the heroine here – sure, stylish, refined and with characteristically expert French. And Yann Beuron makes another welcome appearance as Paris; his witty ascent to the head voice in Je la vois, elle dort is a bewitching piece of drollery. In a selection such as this there simply isn’t time to get acquainted with the wider cast but I can’t omit mention of Laurent Naouri, François Le Roux and Michel Sénéchal whose trio patriotique Lorsque la Grèce is full of the most splendid understanding of Offenbach’s style. This, needless to add, is reflected in the conducting and the apposite use of textures – fairly fast, fluid tempi and sufficient aeration in the orchestral choirs.

The last of the trilogy of extracts is La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein. Here we can enjoy the bluff assurance of François Le Roux as Boum, Minkowski’s cultivation of crisp and pert rhythmic profiles – try the chanson militaire; Ah! C’est un fameux regiment. Added to these virtues is Lott once again, though here her voice sounds a little more under pressure, the verve of the choir in its outings, in particular Le carillon de ma grand-mère, the piping confidence of the wind principals, and the buoyant elegance of the rhythm.

For those who want to investigate further Orphée aux Enfers is on EMI 556725-2, La Belle Hélène comes from Virgin 545477-2 and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein is similarly on Virgin.

If you want a handy highlights disc though this one is infallible fun.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Goran Forsling


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