Marc Minkowski conducts Offenbach
Jacques OFFENBACH (1819 - 1880)
La belle Hélène [123:00]
Dame Felicity Lott - Helen, Queen of Sparta; Yann Beuron - Paris, son of King Priam, King of Troy; Michel Sénéchal - Menelaus, King of Sparta; Laurent Naouri - Agamemnon, King of Argos; François Le Roux - Calchas, High Priest of Jupiter; Marie-Ange Todorovitch - Orestes, son of Agamemnon; Eric Huchet - Achilles, King of Phthiotis; Alain Gabriel - Ajax I, King of Salamis; Laurent Alvaro - Ajax II, King of Locris; Hjördis Thébault - Bacchis, Helen’s attendant; Stéphanie d’Oustrac - Leoena, a courtesan; Magali Léger - Parthoenis, a courtesan; José Canales - Philocome, Calchas’s attendant;
Les Musiciens du Louvre, Grenoble and Chorus of the Musiciens du Louvre/Marc Minkowski
Costumes and Stage Direction: Laurent Pelly
Set Design: Chantal Thomas
Lighting Design: Joël Adam
Choreography: Laura Scozzi
rec. live, Théàtre Musical de Paris, Chatelet, 2000
Orphée aux enfers [127:00]
Natalie Dessay - Eurydice; Yann Beuron - Orphée; Jean-Paul Fouchecourt - Aristée - Pluton; Laurent Naouri - Jupiter; Martine Olmeda - L’Opinion Publique; Steven Cole - John Styx; Cassandre Berthon - Cupidon; Etienne Lescroart - Mercure; Virgine Pochon - Diane; Lydie Pruvot - Junon; Maryline Fallot - Venus; Alketa Cela - Minerve; Sharman Plesner - Violiniste;
Orchestra and Chorus of the Opéra National de Lyon, Grenoble Chamber orchestra, Ballet of the Grand-Théatre de Genéve/Mark Minkowski
Stage Director: Laurent Pelly
Set Design: Chantal Thomas
Costume Design: Michel Dussarat, Laurent Pelly
Lighting: Joël Adam
Choreography: Dominique Boivin
rec. live, Opéra National de Lyon, 1997
Sound format: PCM Stereo, DD 5.1, DTS 5.1
Subtitles: GB, DE, FR, ES, IT
Picture format: 16:9
Region code: 0
Bonus feature [26:00]
ARTHAUS MUSIK 107 506 DVD [2 DVDs: 123:00 + 153:00]
A few years ago I reviewed a CD with highlights from three Offenbach operettas, La belle Hélène, Orphée aux enfers and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, all conducted by Marc Minkowski. I enjoyed the music and the singing very much and when this twofer appeared I was keen on renewing the acquaintance … and now complete. I have to admit that I was very frustrated. No, La belle Hélène wasn’t frustrating at all, on the contrary I found it completely to my taste. A bit over the top, perhaps, but so what? Old Offenbach wouldn’t have minded. In the first scene we find Hélène in bed - she took sleeping pills during the overture - and now she is asleep and dreaming. The whole story takes place in her dream which also is an alibi for whatever weird situations that happen during the evening. With Felicity Lott electrifying in the title role - vocally a bit worn perhaps, but her timing and her expressivity are superb - and with a supporting cast on the highest artistic level, this is a feast for every lover of French operetta. The ever reliable François Le Roux is a splendid Calchas and as Hélène’s aged husband Menelaus, we see the superb Michel Sénéchal. Having made his professional debut in 1950 he was still fit as a fiddle fifty years later, aged 73. Marie-Ange Todorovitch, another mainstay in the French repertoire, is an Orestes of one’s dreams. Best of all is Yann Beuron as Paris. He is flexible, a good actor and sings with lyrical elegance. John Aler on the Plasson set (CD only) is good but Beuron has that hard-to-define Frenchness of style that Simoneau, Vanzo, the young Sénéchal and Burles also possessed. He lacks the brilliance of Jussi Björling in the Mount Ida aria, but then nobody else has ever been able to match him. All in all a lovely performance.
Can anyone tell me why Orphée aux enfers totally failed to impress me? It’s the same director, practically the same production team overall, the same conductor, Yann Beuron again takes the male lead and the incomparable Natalie Dessay is Eurydice. Laurent Naouri, moreover, is a hilarious Jupiter, disguised as a fly (!), singing his buzz song. Jean-Paul Fouchecourt, best known as a baroque singer but with a large and diversified repertoire, surprises as a true entertainer in the dual role of Aristée and Pluton and among lesser known artists Martine Olmeda as L’Opinion Publique and Maryline Fallot as Venus also stand out for their good singing and acting.
No, it isn’t the singing and the acting - everybody is perfect in their roles - and chorus, ballet and orchestra are formidable - but for some reason I found it boring. Some of the gags were a fun but there was too much shouting and running about, too much business ... too much of everything. Probably the fault is mine, probably I am a bore. Anyway I derived very little pleasure from the performance - in theatrical terms that is - and my wife, who often is more critical than I am, left before half-time.
I have seen some rave reviews of both productions and recommend prospective buyers to sample before buying - if that is possible. For those who believe they are the same kind of bore as me there are a couple of alternatives: La belle Hélène can be bought separately and is well worth the asking price and Orphée aux enfers is available in a CD version (EMI) with many, though not all the singers on this DVD set. The present twofer is only marginally more expensive than La belle Hélène and Orphée can be enjoyed without the visuals. Those who are not my kind of bore can safely invest in this twofer. Whichever option you choose the singing and playing are superb.
Göran Forsling 

Superb singing and playing.