Classical CD Reviews
OFFENBACH: Entre Nous, Celebrating Offenbach – London Philharmonic Orchestra/David Parry – Opera Rara
Published on October 22, 2007
An essential recording for all who are interested in music as social history and for those music lovers which continue to be enchanted by Offenbach’s (1819-1880) intelligent settled messages on social mores. This music portrays a beau monde of dandies, courtesans, dissolute journalists, snobbish aristocrats, insecure bourgeois, elegant salons and riotous street carnivals, all rendered with a fluid and flowing musical style and witty novelistic detail. The performances were recorded at Henry Wood Hall, London, September 2006. This recording certainly captures with excellent results the fantastic acoustics we all know this hall possesses. It is from a 24-bit source recording – two channels with clear right and left placement with vocals mostly in a virtual acoustical center.
In a nutshell, aside from the orchestral Overture (CD 1, track 1) these performances are wholly dedicated to vocal tunes: 41 tracks in all which are excerpts from 23 of his lesser-known operettas. An excellent 240 pages booklet includes the verses for all 40 sung tracks with a brief and pertinent history for each one. It is very commendable for Opera Rara to go to this length to facilitate further acquaintance with this composer’s lesser-known operettas which by today’s standards are seldom heard anywhere considering they were the rage between 1850 and 1880. For the most part his stage works (around 110) followed a formula that blended melody, vocals, dancing and comic operatic plots labeled at that time opera comique. Essentially, they were a portrait of Paris before the Prussian war (1870) and the demise once and for all of Paris’ Second Empire. Indeed this music exploited people’s passion for music hall dances (the famous Can-Can) and its relentless debunking of the Establishment. With his music Offenbach satirized the likes of Wagner, Meyerbeer and Johann Strauss II, for example, on his operetta Belle Lurette in the wonderful duet Ce fut à Londres (CD 1, track 16) he paraphrases the latter’s The Blue Danube. This effect can also be seen in his better known works such as “La Belle Hélène”, “La Vie parisienne”, “Orphée aux Enfers” and “Les Contes d’Hoffmann.”
The influence of naturalistic singing (as opposed to Italian bel-canto) in Offenbach’s output can be heard in this performance’s notable great (French) idiomatic fluidity of the singers and choir. The music we now hear is limited for the most part to stereotyped homophonic formulas of chordal accompaniment with great and colorful results and attractive melodies which could with repeated listening be remembered, and that’s the dirtiest secret of opera – to be remembered by the melodies. As such the music drives the animated melodic singing of the voices and gives it a red-blooded vivacity, dramatic temperament and impressive force mostly of a comical and/or satirical nature with an almost burlesquing tone creating the physiognomy of Paris’ social reality itself and the taut, vigorous muscular system that backs the singing. Suffices to say the orchestra remains subservient to the story (the singing) and that can be heard in this production with its excellent instrumental and vocal balances most likely due to good microphone placement and intelligent mixing. For example, listen to the penetrating and ubiquitous sound of the triangle so well-balanced against the taut bass in the Overture (CD 1, track 1). As a final note, an interesting recording to compare is Marc Minkowski’s Offenbach in Paris (Kultur D2907, DVD).
— John Nemaric