Offenbach: Les fées du Rhin

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COMPOSERS: Offenbach
LABELS: Accord
WORKS: Les fées du Rhin
PERFORMER: Regina Schörg, Nora Gubisch, Piotr Beczala, Dalibor Jenis, Peter Klaveness; Lithuanian Radio Choir, Montpellier National Orchestra/Friedemann Layer
CATALOGUE NO: 472 920-2
The first surprise in encountering this full-blown opera by the master of operetta is that it begins with the Barcarolle from The Tales of Hoffmann, which the composer recycled some 15 years after this previous attempt at a serious score had appeared (Vienna Court Opera, 1864). Despite some initial success in a German, the opera disappeared, and with good reason. It is an old-fashioned number score with some attractive pieces held together by glue and cardboard, its general style owing something to Weber and Mendelssohn. Reminders of early German Romanticism seem appropriate to a subject involving Teutonic warriors who meet their doom when they encounter Lorelei-like Rhine Fairies. But too often Offenbach’s operetta manner gets the better of him, and it’s hard not to feel he’s sending up his own subject. A genius in light music, he merely shows competence here.

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A booklet essay alerts us to this recreated score as forming the beginnings of a scholarly Offenbach edition, which is certainly needed. This live performance of the French original has its rough and ready moments, but is creditably sung and played, though the chorus is weak. Friedemann Layer conducts with some spirit, but not enough to convince that this is a lost masterpiece. George Hall