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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
Pariser Leben (La Vie Parisienne – sung in German) [89:28]
Baron von Gondremark – Marco Bakker (baritone); Baroness Christine – Anneliese Rothenberger (soprano); Raoul de Gardefeu – Adolf Dallapozza (tenor); Bobinet – Willi Brokmeier (baritone); Gontran – Karl Kreile (tenor); Metella – Renate Holm (soprano); Jean Frick – Martin Finke (tenor); Pompa di Matadores – Klaus Hirte (tenor); Gabrielle – Gabriele Fuchs (soprano); Urbain – Günter Wewel (bass); Pauline – Elke Schary (mezzo)
Chorus of Bavarian Radio
Munich Radio Orchestra/Willy Mattes
rec. Bayerischer Rundfunk, Munich, 1-6 February 1982
no text or translations included
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 628923 [45:51 + 43:37]

I admit that the prospect of hearing Offenbach in translation was one that initially I did not relish. That said, I quickly remembered such wonderfully enjoyable recordings as Jussi Björling singing in Swedish, the highlights made by the old Sadlers Wells company and an excellent version in German, also from Munich, of “The Tales of Hoffman” that I reviewed recently. I also remembered some much less enjoyable recordings in French using singers and orchestras whose style was much too heavy for Offenbach. It is perhaps more a matter of style and the particular artists involved rather than of language. The booklet with the present discs also reminds us that the composer himself supervised the translation of his works into German.
 
La Vie Parisienne is probably the composer’s most sparkling work, with an intoxicating and varied succession of vivacious numbers. Even in the slower items the listener needs to be aware of the continued musical energy flowing through the work. This is difficult to achieve and few of the recordings or performances I have heard have been able to do so throughout the work. The present version takes time to get into its stride, and much of the first Act is sung and played with admirable musicianship but with geniality rather than the fierce energy needed to ignite the work’s character. Fortunately things improve and most of the remaining four Acts get closer to the character of the work.
 
This is very obviously a version intended for radio listening. Dialogue is included but very greatly cut. Even if I were able to follow the rapid German I would welcome this as a very satisfactory compromise between including only the musical numbers, which can seem a bit breathless and lacking in theatrical atmosphere, and including long stretches of speech which can pall on repetition. Although it is obvious that the dialogue emerges in a different acoustic and sound level from the music I never found this to be a problem in enjoying the work as a whole.
 
The singers include such well known names of the period as Anneliese Rothenberger, Renate Holm and Adolf Dallapozza, all heard at their best, and they are matched with others equally skilled in this type of musical theatre. Maybe at times they sound more Viennese than French, but given the language used that is probably hard to avoid. The orchestra play with vigour and charm even if they miss the last degree of rhythmic intoxication that would make this a great performance. Whilst I would not necessarily have expected the booklet to include the text and a translation - although I would have welcomed it - it would have been helpful to those unfamiliar with the opera or whose German is as minimal as mine to have included a detailed synopsis. Nonetheless, this remains a thoroughly enjoyable issue of an entertaining performance with much to commend it.
 
John Sheppard