Offenbach: Orphee aux enfers

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Offenbach
LABELS: EMI
WORKS: Orphee aux enfers
PERFORMER: Natalie Dessay, Laurent Naouri, Yann Beuron, Jean-Paul Fouchecourt; Choir & Orchestra of the National Opera of Lyon, Grenable CO/Marc Minkowski
CATALOGUE NO: CDS 5 56725 2
Fashions change even when it comes to humour, and not all comic operas still seem funny today, but the way in which Offenbach turned the serious Orpheus legend on its head is very modern in its sly cynicism. If the operetta is not as funny here as it ought to be, the impressive cast is hardly to blame: its impact is weakened by Minkowski’s hyper conducting, which mistakes speed for wit. Fast tempos leave no space for Gallic élan, and even the famous cancan is deprived of its swagger.

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A pity, for besides the cast the recording is notable for the edition it uses, based on the 1858 original and appropriately employing a theatre band rather than the familiar full orchestra. Sensibly, the best numbers from the later version are incorporated in orchestral reductions, but it is ironic that they sound so untheatrical. Even the dialogue has dramatic life. Leading the cast, EMI’s star Natalie Dessay is by turns dazzling and limpid as the wilful Eurydice. Laurent Naouri is a domineering Jupiter, Jean-Paul Fouchécourt a light and stylish Pluto, Ewa Podles a formidable Public Opinion; so the list goes on, down to such luxury casting as Véronique Gens in the role of Venus. John Allison