This 1970 cast pulls together many of the EMI soloists
who separately have successfully taken the leads in many of the other
eleven EMI operetta recordings here currently re-issued at mid-price.
Jacques Offenbach was a Parisian who took the
style of Auber and Lecocq and moulded it into Opera Bouffe, a bright
and captivating style which was very successful in Parisian theatres.
It rose to its zenith between 1850 and 1870 and became equally as popular
in Germany and Britain.
The overture opens brightly and one prepares to settle
down to an interesting reading of this exciting piece with some wide
swings in pace. The overture is disappointingly cut short and voice-over
narration interrupts it still further to set the scene. This seems odd
when there is plenty of space to have delivered it in full. Or did something
go wrong with the master? French narration, in fact, is used by a number
of characters to help minimise punctuation of the musical numbers by
lengthy passages of speech. The better passages of dialogue are left
untouched. The enchanting entr'acte to Act II is, this time, nearly
heard in full, but again gives way to narration. I find the desire to
tell the plot complete somewhat pointless when EMI Pathé must
have known that this recording would be intended from the outset to
be marketed internationally to enjoy wider sales.
La Belle Hélène has two other recordings
to its credit: This version stands up well alongside the 1986 Plasson
recording [CDS 747 157-8] with Norman/Aler/Burles both in singing and
musical representation. A younger and fresher Burles also features as
the lead in this Marty recording. A recent Swiss DVD recording (Zurich
Opera) with Harnoncourt is not available for comparison.
The singers are in good form and their contribution
to the elegance of this recording may be judged from sampling the whole
of tk7 (CD2) where the neatly flowing and sonorous duet, sensitive orchestral
playing and spacious acoustics all add to the enjoyment.
It is a sumptuous recording for pre-digital days where
an excellent frequency response picks out every nuance of singing and
open, wide acoustics well suit the Offenbach genre. Characteristically
with this French series, the producers decided to overlap dialogue to
the closing bars of music, but it can be irksome for those of us who
prefer to hear a piece of music to the last chord.
EMI have taken more care with their accuracy of track
indexing with this set compared with some of the other re-issues in
the series. The CD set is one of twelve re-issues of European operettas
sung in French all from EMI coffers. The booklet contains brief notes
in French and English.