> Offenbach Belle Helene 5740852 [RW]: Classical Reviews- April2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Belle Hélène
Daniele Millet (Hélène), Bernadette Antoine (Oreste), Sylvia Paule (Bacchis), Charles Burles (Pâris), Jean-Christophe Benoit (Ménélas), Michel Dens (Agamemnon), Bernard Siclair (Achille)
René Duclos choir, Lamoureux Concert Orchestra/Jean-Pierre Marty
EMI 574 085-2 ADD [CD1 59.34, CD2 63.18]


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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.

Ray Walker

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