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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-80)
A Concert of Music by Offenbach

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein (a) Ah, Que j'aime les militaires; Dites-lui; Chanson militaire
Souvenirs D’Aix-les-Baines

Fantasio: Ballade à la lune (a); Duo fantasio (ab)
Le carnaval des revues (g)
Symphonie de l'avenir
Madame l'archiduc (adefgh)
Sextuor de l'Alphabet.
Les Contes d'Hoffmann (ac)
Entr’acte et Barcarole.
La belle Hélène

Choeur des prêtresses d’Adonis (i); Amours divins! (a)
Barbe-Bleue

Y'a des bergères dans le village (a).
Ouverture à Grand Orchestre

Lischen et Fritzchen (ag)
Je suis alsacienne/Je suis alsacien.
La vie parisienne (adfg)
Nous entrons dans cette demeure.
La fille du tambour-major (a)
Que m'importe un titre eclatant.
La Périchole (a)
Ah! quel diner je viens de faire.
Orphée aux Infers

Galop infernal (all)
(a) Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo)
(b) Magali Leger,
(c) Stéphanie d'Oustrac (sopranos);
(d) Gilles Ragon,
(e) Jean-Christophe Keck,
(f) Jean-Christophe Henry (tenors);
(g) Laurent Naouri (baritone);
(h) Christophe Grapperon (bass);
(i) Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
Recorded: live performance, Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris, Dec 2001
Producer: Arend Prohmann
Ratio=4:3; LPCM Stereo/Dolby 5.1/DTS 5.1
DVD TDK DV-OPJOF [87minutes]

The Swedish mezzo-soprano Anne Sofia von Otter is a distinguished singer but is not a name that immediately comes to mind when considering the music of Offenbach. It was with considerable interest that I approached this DVD especially as it included several rarities.

Three extracts from La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein opened the concert. The opening seemed rather lacklustre but von Otter reached her form and the third item "Ah! c’est un fameux régiment" went with a swing, helped by the singer’s expressive facial expressions and animated changes of posture.

It is now often forgotten that Offenbach was one of the Waltz Kings and it was interesting to hear his suite of waltzes "Souvenir d’Aix les Bains" which reflected his visit to the Spa to alleviate his gout and rheumatism. These were well played under the baton of Marc Minkowski who directed an exhilarating La Belle Hélène on a recent DVD from the same theatre. Alas these waltzes, whilst pleasant, lacked the inspiration so often shown by Johann Strauss.

Fantasio was written in 1872 for the Opéra-Comique but although Offenbach valued the music highly, the opera was a failure. The ballad to the moon is delightful and so is the duet. This music is a real find and von Otter gives them her impressive best. Magali Léger sings well in the duet.

Symphonie de l’avenir is a musical parody that gently mocks the music of Richard Wagner who appears wearing his famous cap and announces the end of notes, scales, harmonies, flats, sharps etc. Instead there would be a new, tremendous and indescribable kind of music. This is then followed by an hilarious "Wagnerian" March of the Bridal Pair which depicts the wedding march, departure of the registry official, farewell to mother etc. With typical Wagnerian elements it is transformed into a musical spectacle. Finally the ‘musician of the future’ collapses at the feet of the conductor, overcome by the splendour of his own music. As depicted here it is irresistible.

This pantomime is followed by another, the absurd sextet from Madam L’Archiduc based upon the letters of the alphabet and the visual spectacle develops into complete confusion. To bring us back to earth we have the old favourite the Barcarole from the Tales of Hoffman beautifully sung by von Otter blending with the voice of Stéphanie d’Oustrac.

After a brief choral interlude, from La Belle Hélène, von Otter sings with feeling the aria Divine Lovers from the same opera followed by the contrasting aria from Blue Beard where she depicts the coquettish Boulotte.

The Ouverture à Grand Orchestra was written before the young Offenbach was a successful composer of light music. It is written in the style of Schubert or perhaps Beethoven but it shows that he was already finding his own style. This is another fascinating rarity.

By now von Otter is really going with a swing, and after giving a convincing performance in the duo des Alsaciens from Lischen et Fritzchen (with Laurent Naouri), she goes to town as the famous colonel’s widow from La Vie Parisienne. Here there is perhaps a hint of overacting to underline the parody. I am the daughter of the drum-major is executed with finesse. From La Périchole she acts and sings with verve about her wonderful dinner and the wine which obviously flowed in profusion. The concert finishes with a grand finale: the galop from Orpheus in the Underworld, with all the performers on stage and a shower of confetti. It is very obvious that the audience enjoyed themselves enormously (and so did this critic).

This concert DVD is well directed and the filming is natural and unobtrusive. The recording is also good being particularly natural in surround sound. The presentation of the CD is rather spoilt by the drab design of the cover sleeve. However the notes are helpful.

Most of the contents of this DVD are available on a CD (DG 471 501-2) that has been well received by critics. The question that has to be asked is whether it is worth playing extra for the DVD. Although the extra items are worth having, the acting and stage atmosphere transforms a CD of songs into a theatrical experience. By means of costume and acting this conveys better the hilarity of Offenbach’s operettas. For me there is no doubt that the DVD is the version to get.

Arthur Baker



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