Offenbach: La vie parisienne

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COMPOSERS: Offenbach
LABELS: Col legno
WORKS: La vie parisienne
PERFORMER: Graham Valentine, Matthias Matschke, Walter Raffeiner, Susanne Düllmann, Sophie Rois; Klangforum Wien/Sylvain Cambreling
CATALOGUE NO: WWE 2CD 20100
Offenbach wrote his ‘contemporary’ operetta to capitalise on the Paris Exhibition of 1867, tailoring his score to the modest vocal abilities of the actors at the Théâtre du Palais-Royal. But not in his worst nightmare could he have imagined this performance.

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Recorded live at the Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Berlin last year, this is Offenbach’s opera in name only, an attempt, according to an introduction by the editor/conductor, to restore the social frisson of the original. But where the original is irresistible, this wholesale Eurotrash is repulsive, down to the last croak and cowbell.

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Sylvain Cambreling has completely reworked the score for modern-instrument ensemble; Marthaler has rewritten the libretto in German with scraps of French, English and inarticulate squawking. All that’s missing is a bit of rock beat. Now and then one of Offenbach’s familiar melodies struggles to the surface like a beggar drowning in a sewer. The roles are delivered mainly by actors, whose attempts to sing are akin to nails scraped along a slate. The chorus is worse. Indeed the whole affair is unmusical by Offenbach’s standards. Hence, while cutting-edge connoisseurs may have a ball with this, Offenbach-lovers will find nothing to enjoy in such unlistenable stuff. Perhaps you had to be there. But I doubt it. The booklet includes a German libretto, followed by a French one. There is no English libretto or synopsis, though there are English-language biographies of the editors. Barrymore Laurence Scherer