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.
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.
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’.