WORKS: Les brigands (in German)
PERFORMER: Hubert Möhler, Eva Csapo, Jean Van Ree, Martha Mödl; Cologne WDR Radio Chorus & Orchestra/Pinchas Steinberg
CATALOGUE NO: 60 090 ADD Reissue (1980)
Offenbach’s opéra bouffe of 1869 is less frequently revived than others, but it’s a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed example of his unstoppable musical vitality. His regular librettists Meilhac and Halévy supplied him a tale pitting multi-disguised brigands against incompetent carabinieri, and his response includes many numbers written with brilliance and charm.
In this 1980 radio performance it’s sung in German, which is going to restrict its appeal somewhat, and conducted in a heavy-handed manner that is efficient but sadly lacking in esprit. The dialogue is not included, and the booklet contains a libretto in German only.
One or two performances rise above the dutiful. Eva Csapo proffers a vivacious soprano as Fiorella, and while Hubert Möhler’s comic turn as the brigand leader Falsacappa is overdone he’s at least vocally agile. The veteran Wagnerian Martha Mödl puts in an appearance as the Duchess of Alcobacca, and Evelyn Künneke delivers a sophisticated Marlene Dietrich-like travesty performance as Antonio. Jean Van Ree’s Fragoletto exhibits a limited voice and is often out of tune.
The rest is correct but dull. Given the availability of Gardiner’s 1988 set with Lyon forces and a Francophone cast, there’s no real contest. George Hall