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
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
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
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
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.