One of the best recordings of 2001
J. Luis Juarez Echenique | Mexico City | 12/19/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I think Marc Minkowski is the finest Offenbach conductor since Igor Markevitch. This new recording of La Belle Helene is almost sinfully delicious. What a treat is to hear period instruments in this music, just listen to the brass and you most certainly will hear a difference!
The cast is excellent. Dame Felicity Lott is probably the best non-French singer around in French music, and her Helene is both funny and sensuous, but the real find is the young tenor Yann Beuron who sings Paris with glorious ease and great taste. Even if you love Björling's recording of the aria, I bet you Offenbach's tenors sounded more like Beuron.
Since I bought this recording several months ago from Amazon.uk I have already heard it a number of times and I have to confess it's adictive. In a bleak year like 2001 this is like a much needed bottle of champagne."
From Rameau to Offenbach: Minkowski strikes the right note
J. Luis Juarez Echenique | 12/02/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Striking the right note with Offenbach is hard. Few, these last twenty years at least, have got it right. The danger, on the one hand, is to go over the top, pushing his finely-gauged lunacy into outright madness, coarse farce or, more prosaically, Folies-Bergere-style revue, with topless dancers, circus acts and leather-clad go-go boys. On the other, Germanic "concept" productions, Goetterdaemmerung-flavored critiques of decadent bourgeois capitalism, with shaven-headed singers in floor-length black coats and dark glasses, have killed these light-hearted works stone dead.Applying post-Offenbach formulae has not, therefore, on the whole, been successful.Rameau's Platee, termed, by its composer, a "ballet bouffon" and hailed by Jean-Jacques Rousseau, no less, as "le chef d'œuvre de Rameau," is a mythological parody of (extra-)marital relations in which Jupiter "teaches" his jealous wife Juno "a lesson" by pretending to court and wed the "ridiculous nymph" Platee. Minkowski's recording of Platee is, to my mind, the best available performance of any of Rameau's operas and as such one of the greatest Baroque opera recordings in the catalogues. Unfortunately it seems to be unavailable in the US, but American shoppers would do well to check out ... French site and have it shipped.From "bouffon" to "bouffe," as the Platee sleeve notes say, is but a short step; and Offenbach's own theatre was, as it happens, called Les Bouffes-Parisiens. Minkowski's stroke of genius has been, therefore, to apply his Midas touch to the mythological parodies of Offenbach, bringing the same forces into play, first for Orphee aux Enfers, now La Belle Helene, as for Platee, and with the same success. The Paris Chatelet production which is behind these CDs brought together the same musicians, stage director and, to some extent, "baroque" singers as Minkowski's Palais Garnier performances of Platee, at last striking exactly the right note.Minkowski himself is the first star of this show. His tempi are characteristically brisk, but the degree of control and precision, the shaping, are phenomenal: the sprightly accompaniments bounce along. Felicity Lott puts in a stylish comic performance as Helene and, as usual, gives a lesson in French diction. Paradoxically, this British singer might be termed today's leading French soprano: her recent recording of Poulenc's La Voix Humaine and La Dame de Monte Carlo confirm her pre-eminence. The comic talent, artistry and, once more, the diction of Michel Senechal, now over 70 and presumably the last exponent of an otherwise lost French post-war style, are perfect in the part of Menelas. (Senechal, some may remember, himself sang Platee in a pioneering 50s recording still famous in France.) They are surrounded by some of the pick of the current generation of young French singers, led by the charming Yann Beuron, and others from abroad. Everyone seems to have a whale of a time: the verve of the stage performances is carried through to the discs. (Is this a live recording? The sleeve notes aren't clear: "recorded in parallel with the Chatelet performances" by Radio France. There's all the excitement of a live, but although I'm fairly certain I heard distant laughter at one stage, there's none of the coughing and hacking that normally grace an evening out in Paris.)Five stars, then, for this set. The linguistically-challenged might give it less, for the (updated) dialogues; but why not sit down with the libretto and brush up your French? With diction as good as this, you'll have no trouble following it. And once the DVD reaches the US, you can read the subtitles and give the CD to a deserving friend. Enjoy."
A master experience
Dino Starcevic Rivera | San José, Costa Rica | 03/18/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"If any operetta would receive this respectful and talented treatment, no one can consider it a minor genre. Such and intelligent and funny (truly a rarity on a recorded opera)reading,
This set, and Strauss'Die Fledermaus by Carlos Kleiber are among the best. If you don't have it, do not wait..."