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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Orphée aux Enfers, revised version (1874) [140:07]
Eurydice – Mady Mesplé (soprano)
Jupiter – Michel Trempont (baritone)
Aristée/Pluton – Charles Burles (tenor)
Orphée – Michel Sénéchal (baritone)
L’Opinion Publique – Jane Rhodes (mezzo)
Cupidon – Jane Berbié (soprano)
Diane – Michèle Pena (mezzo)
Vénus – Michèle Command (soprano)
Junon – Danièle Castaing (mezzo)
John Styx – Bruce Brewer (baritone)
Mars – Jean-Philippe Lafont (baritone)
Mercure – André Mallabrera; Minos – Jean-Claude Bonnafous; Eaque – Roger Trentin; Rhadamante – Henry Amiel; Un Licteur – Hughes Brambilla
Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix Potencée, Choeur et Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse/Michel Plasson
rec. Halle-aux-Grains, Toulouse, June and July 1978. ADD
[68:49 + 71:18]


Experience Classicsonline

EMI’s reissue of Offenbach’s 1874 version of Orpheus in the Underworld is both timely and welcome. Over the last few years there has been a resurgence of interest in the composer’s operettas, with several new productions and follow-up recordings from the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris and Virgin Classics in particular. Indeed, Offenbach’s original 1858 version of Orpheus is already available on EMI, with Marc Minkowski leading the Orchestre de Chambre de Grenoble, Natalie Dessay and others.

So what does this recording have to offer? For a start, it is a good deal cheaper than its EMI rival, with the two-disc set coming in at budget price. Next, there is the pleasure of listening to Offenbach’s first full-length operetta performed in its revised form by a large-scale orchestra and chorus. This now includes the vocal and orchestral numbers he specially composed for the re-staging of the work at the Théâtre de la Gaïté in 1874. While the Minkowski version remains faithful to the 1858 original and is highly polished, it nonetheless sounds rather thin and chamber-like when compared to the full works.

Originally recorded in 1978, this disc set also includes a team of singers who not only know how to sing Offenbach, but also how to act it. Veteran Offenbachienne Mady Mesplé makes a superb Eurydice – vain, selfish and seductive, although her nasal warbling can sometimes irritate. She is perfectly balanced by her three pursuers – Michel Trempont (Jupiter), Charles Burles (Aristeus/Pluto) and Michel Sénéchal (Orpheus). Trempont in particular dominates the corrupt Olympians with his strong, rumbling, voice and superb comic dialogue. Extra applause too for a witty, full-throated Jane Berbié as Cupid.

Michel Plasson allows the forces of the Toulouse Capitole orchestra a fairly free reign, rightly emphasising the dance patterns and rhythmic patter of Offenbach’s score. Even the gentler moments are pushed forward, as if itching to get to the fun stuff, including the wild choral cancan at the beginning of Act IV.

There are some problems with this recording. The original 1978 sound has not transferred well. Both singers and orchestra sound rather distant, except during some of the spoken dialogue passages, which can sound alarmingly close. The new budget issue package includes some interesting notes, but a rather thin synopsis, and no libretto at all. But that aside, this is a recording well worth buying, both for those who know and love their Offenbach, and for those who are beginning to explore the stage works of the ‘Mozart of the Champs Elysées’.

John-Pierre Joyce




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