Aureole etc.

Golden Age singers

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Faure songs
Charlotte de Rothschild (soprano);

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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein: Choeur, Récit et Rondeau "Portez armes!" Vous aimez le danger ... Ah, que j’aime les militaires", Duo et Déclaration "Oui, Général, quelqu’un vous aime ... Dites-lui qu’on l’a remarqué", Chanson militaire "Ah! C’est un fameux régiment", Fantasio: Ballade "Voyez dans la nuit brune", Duo: "Quel murmure charmant soudain viens-je d’entendre?", Le Carnaval des Revues: Symphonies de l’avenir – Marche des fiancés, Madame L’Archiduc: Sextuor de l’Alphabet "SADE", Les Contes d’Hoffmann: Entr’acte et Barcarolle "Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour", La Belle Hélène: Chœur de jeunes filles "C’est le devoir des jeunes filles", Air "Amours divins! Ardentes flammes!", Barbe-bleue: Couplets "Y’a des bergères dans le village", Ouverture à Grand Orchestre, Lischen et Fritzchen: Duo "Je suis alsacienne", La Vie Parisienne: Finale du Deuxième Acte "Nous entrons dans cette demeure", La Fille du Tambour-Major: Chanson "Que m’importe un titre éclatant", La Périchole: Griserie-Ariette "Ah! Quel dîner je viens de faire"
Anne Sofie von Otter (mezzo-soprano), Gilles Ragon, Magau Léger, Laurent Naouri, Jean-Christophe Keck, Jean-Christophe Henry, Christophe Grapperon, Stéphanie d’Oustrac (singers),
Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre
Les Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
Recorded live at the Théâtre du Châtelet, date not given
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 471 501-2 [70’ 02"]


I was bowled over by Anne Sofie von Otter’s Chaminade disc so when this came along – a carefully planned programme of music by the greatest of French operetta composers, ranging from the well-known Barcarolle to some much rarer pieces, based around von Otter but including supporting singers and chorus when required, as well as a purely instrumental interlude – I thought I was in for a real treat. In the end I was not wholly convinced.

In her Chaminade CD, von Otter risked a style of performance – rich in swoops and whoops and nudges – that came off thanks to the verve of her pianist Bengt Forsberg and to the fact that this was music written rather closer to our own time. Here the conductor Marc Minkowski, while not lacking in brio, seems to take the view that Offenbach was writing in the comic opera tradition of Rossini and Donizetti rather than looking ahead to the Moulin Rouge. This is a perfectly tenable view, one which treats the music with affection and vitality without guying it, and it is a view which many of the supporting singers seem to share. In this context on Otter’s cabaret antics, which would be more suited to Kurt Weill, seem singularly out of place and one wishes she would just sometimes move from one note to the next without either sliding or gasping or gulping. It is as though the stylistic observances of the Chaminade record have now crystallised into mannerisms. All this comes into its own in the final "Tipsy Arietta" from "La Périchole" which is in itself a classic piece of singing; but the law of diminishing returns comes into play and it would have been so much more effective had everything previously not been sung in the same way.

Anne Sofie von Otter is a lovely singer, one of the finest mezzos around today, and it gives me no pleasure at all to have to register such negative reactions. To be fair, a few items are sung relatively straight – compare the air from "La belle Hélène" with the fussy delivery of the "Barbe-bleue" extract that follows. But there is also an excess of vibrato that I had not previously associated with her work, together with a suspicion of "microphone singing" – phrases whispered into the microphone in a way that would not cross the footlights in a real theatre. It would be sad indeed if such a gifted artist should be setting out along the road that leads downhill to Cecilia Bartoli, and I can only hope that her next disc to come my way will report a healthier situation.

Christopher Howell

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