Arien und Scenen aus Arias and Scenes from Barbe-Bleue · La belle Hélène Le Carnaval des Revues Les Contes d'Hoffmann · Fantasio La Fille du Tambour-Major La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein Lischen et Fritzchen · La Vie Parisienne Madame l'Archiduc · La Périchole
Anne Sofie von Otter Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre Les Musiciens du Louvre Marc Minkowski
Von Otter embraces the style with spirit and savoir-faire . . . The supporting singers are fine, particularly Laurent Naouri. Long may Minkowski & Co. continue with its merry Offenbach forays.
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Opera News (New York) / 01. December 2002
Anne Sofie von Otter immediately stamps her brilliance on this fascinating collection as Offenbach's voluptuous Grand-Duchess.
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Gramophone (London) / 01. March 2003
a temptation hard to resist . . .
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Opera (London) / 01. June 2003
Von Otter gives it all she has, making this a most enjoyable release.
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Irish Times / 05. June 2003
The combination of Offenbach's ebullience and von Otter's brilliance should be perfect to go with a glass of champagne between the carol service and carving the goose.
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Gramophone (London) / 01. December 2003
Mit französischem Charme und Esprit präsentiert das Dreamteam aus Mezzosopranistin Anne Sofie von Otter und Dirigent Marc Minkowski eine einzigartige Zusammenstellung von Meisterwerken Jacques Offenbachs, dem Erfinder der Operette. Wieviel Spaß es Anne Sofie von Otter macht, ihr komisches Talent auszuspielen, hört man in jeder Phrase dieser teils weltbekannten, teils zu Unrecht in Vergessenheit geratenen Perlen!
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Der Spiegel (Hamburg) / 28. October 2002
Auch die als Barockspezialisten bekannten Musiker zeigen, wie Offenbach klingen muss, kein Operettenmuff, kein ewiger Cancan, sondern Musik eines Komponisten, der sein Handwerk gelernt hat und dessen Nähe zur Satztechnik eines Beethoven dank kleiner Besetzung überraschend deutlich wird.
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Audio (Stuttgart) / 01. December 2002
[Anne Sofie von Otters Offenbach-CD] präsentiert sich als unterhaltsames Amalgam populärer Stücke und Trouvaillen aus dem reichen Schaffen des Kölner Franzosen, naturgemäß aufs Maß der Protagonistin zugeschnitten und von Marc Minkowski mitreißend begleitet.
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Opernwelt (Berlin) / 01. August 2003
Aus dem Reich der Großherzogin von Gérolstein sprudelt uns der Champagner geradewegs durch die Lautsprecher entgegen. Marc Minkowski und seine Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble machen nicht einfach nur ein Fass auf, sondern lassen die Korken knallen, damit dies Offenbach-CD zu einer der amüsantesten CD-Begegnungen des Jahres wurde. Natürlich ist es auch eine Paradeeinspielung der von Otter, die mit musikalischem Esprit, chamäleonhafter Wandlungsfähigkeit und bravouröser Leichtigkeit in die diversen Rollen schlüpft. Ihr reifer Ton passt sich so nonchalant der Großherzogin an, die girrt und gurrt und die so trefflich ihre Armee hochleben lässt, er schmeichelt und glänzt als Helena und ist von einer duftigen Leichtigkeit in Péricholes Griserie-Ariette. Die von Otter ist durchtrieben und kokett, verführerisch und souverän, sie spielt mit den Worten wie die Massary und ist klanglich ausladend wie die Crespin. In dieser gut angefüllten Stunde wird nicht einfach nur ein Operettenreich besucht, sondern die große Lust der kleinen Kunst auf hinreißende Weise ausgelebt.
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Crescendo (Berlin) / 01. August 2003
Sie ist die vielseitigste und wohl berückendste klassische Sängerin der Gegenwart: Anne Sofie von Otter, Mezzosopranistin aus Schweden. Über alle musikalischen Stilrichtungen hinweg verströmt sie ihr enormes Talent, veredelte das gängige klassische Repertoire ebenso wie Popsongs, an der Seite von Elvis Costello. Auf ihrem neuen Album (Deutsche Grammophon) widmet sich Anne Sofie von Otter dem Komponisten Jacques Offenbach. Lieder aus Opern und Operetten -- wie gewöhnlich ein Hörgenuss erster Güte.
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Morgenpost am Sonntag (Dresden) / 18. July 2004
The Art of Offenbach:
An Adroit Alchemical Fusion of Romanticism and Foolishness
If the "Infernal Galop" - universally famous as the can-can - from Orphée en enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld) and the Barcarolle from Les Contes d'Hoffmann (The Tales of Hoffmann) are among the best-known melodies in the world, their success has had another side. More than a century after Offenbach's death, the larger public continues to ignore almost all the rest of his vast output, over 600 works, largely unpublished. Saddest of all is the distorted or, at best, narrow image that music lovers have formed of the fatherof La Belle Hélène. No one disputes that Offenbach is the unrivalled king of "entertainers", but he was also one of the great composers of the 19th century. Only since the launch of a monumental edition of his works in 1999 are these previously neglected musical treasures gradually becoming accessible, and in their original version - because his music often used to be the pretext for every sort of more or less respectable "adaptation". It is in this context that the present programme has been put together: a mixture of his most popular pieces with some neglected masterpieces in which the purest Romanticism mingles with wacky farce. For all of Offenbach's works are based on an adroit alchemical fusion of Romanticism and foolishness.
Before he was able to realize his dream of becoming a stage composer by creating his own theatre, the Bouffes-Parisiens, in 1855, the young Offenbach got by as a cellist in Parisian salons. Born into a Jewish family in Cologne, he had come to Paris to finish his musical studies at the Conservatoire but was soon able to earn a living. When circumstances took him briefly back to his native city, he had more in the way of orchestral resources at his disposal there than in the French capital and was able to conduct the most audacious of his symphonic works. In 1843 he composed an overture for full orchestra, which reveals, more than merely the witty man of the theatre, Offenbach the Romantic artist, skilled orchestrator and inventive melodist. Though haunted by the shades of Beethoven and Schubert, this ambitious work already shows many characteristically Offenbachian turns of phrase.
Later, he wrote the surprising Symphonie de l'avenir ("Symphony of the Future", 1860), one of those waggish parodies with which Offenbach regaled his close friends. It is actually an orchestral improvisation fabricated out of one of the most famous dances of the 19th century, the Quadrille des lanciers, "Wagnerized" with some of Offenbach's typical jokes: chord clusters (a century before Ligeti!), provocative polytonality, non sequiturs... The message is clear: to prepare "soup à la Richard", take a little popular dance, add a few parallel fifths, coat with cacophony, mix it all together, and there you have it: "The Art of the Future" - a rude homage to Wagner's opuscule of the same name that he published in 1849. But it all remains quite good-natured, unconnected with the attacks soon to be directed by the "Medusa's head of Bayreuth" against the "little Mozart of the Champs-Elysées". The text of this melodrama is never less than amusing, even if certain allusions to a famous advertisement of the time for patent leather ankle boots, as well as a bawdy little ditty that follows it, inevitably pass unnoticed by today's listeners.
Lischen et Fritzchen (1863) belongs to that host of short one-act pieces that livened up evenings at the Bouffes-Parisiens and the Kursaal at the spa of Bad Ems, where Offenbach had his rheumatism treated. In a note to Baron von Wolzogen, the composer confirms that Lischen et Fritzchen originated in a bet: this "Alsatian conversation" had to be composed, orchestrated and mounted in eight days. Given the speed at which Offenbach habitually worked, that is entirely plausible, especially as he did not hesitate to insert an early composition, Le Rat des villes et le Rat des champs ("The Town Rat and the Country Rat"), into the new piece.
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein was composed for the Universal Exhibition of 1867. It is the supreme achievement not just of the period known as the "Offenbachiad" (1864-69) but also of the triumvirate formed by Offenbach and his two librettists, Meilhac and Halévy, and, especially, in the career of his leading lady, the soprano Hortense Schneider. The first interpreter of the master's great works, this brilliant singer-actress was adulated by all of Europe - her dressing room was even nicknamed the "princes' passage", so numerous were the crowned heads that squeezed into it to pay her their respects.
The Grand Duchess in question is a young thing, barely 16 years old. During her first inspection of a military camp she finds herself suddenly fascinated: "Ah, que j'aime les militaires!" - Ah, how I love soldiers". Falling for the charms of the handsome but simple recruit Fritz, she joins him in singing the regimental song. She then keeps on promoting him until he ends up at the rank of general. In the second act she offers him an indirect, barely veiled, declaration of her love ("Dites-lui qu'on l'a remarqué... - Tell him he's been found distinguished"), undoubtedly one of the score's high points.
Besides La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, the trio of Offenbach-Meilhac-Halévy produced hits as diverse as La Belle Hélène (1864), Barbe-Bleue (Bluebeard) (1866), La Vie parisienne (1866)and La Périchole (1868). In the first, Hortense Schneider took the role of Helen of Sparta - a proud queen, haughty in demeanour, hot-bloodedly sensual, assuring Venus that, as it is here understood, "we need love" - but Schneider also played the uncouth Boulotte, unluckily chosen to be Bluebeard's sixth wife, who took a completely different approach to the same subject: "There's no one to compare with li'l Boulotte when it comes to flirting". And this celebrated singer was also the choice for Périchole, whose story - a bit like an "operetta version of Carmen" - is that of a poor Peruvian street singer who seeks an escape from her miserable existence. The viceroy is struck by her beauty and wants to take her home as a lady-in-waiting, but for that she must be a married woman. At the fittingly boozy wedding he arranges for her at his palace, Périchole becomes more than "a little tipsy".
Offenbach's other favoured singer was Zulma Bouffar, who triumphantly created the role of Gabrielle in La Vie parisienne at Paris's Théâtre du Palais-Royal. Gabrielle is a Parisian glove-maker who passes herself off as a German colonel's widow in a scheme devised by the boulevardier Raoul de Gardefeu. But her naturally whimsical nature is ill-suited to playing a tearful widow, and she keeps slipping out of character, at one point executing a drum roll and eventually lapsing into a "tyrolienne", a wholly inappropriate Austrian peasant dance.
All his life Offenbach strove for a success at the Opéra-Comique. He finally achieved it with Les Contes d'Hoffmann, but sadly he had already died by the time his masterpiece saw the light of day. Nine years earlier, in 1872, the première of his Fantasio at the same theatre had, quite undeservedly, been a fiasco, undoubtedly because the composer at the time was the object of numerous intrigues: reproached for his Jewish and German origins, he was accused - along with the discredited Second Empire - of having perverted France. Yet this is one of Offenbach's finest scores, one that exudes a genuine Romantic flow, with a scattering of farcical features, It prefigures Hoffmann, but with a balance and finish not to be found in that final work.
Fantasio is a young romantic bourgeois, racked with melancholy. Rather than amuse himself with his fellow-students, he prefers to contemplate the moon. In order to be able to approach the princess Elsbeth, with whom he is passionately in love, he resorts to donning a jester's costume and sabotaging her wedding to Prince de Mantou.
Madame l'Archiduc (1874), though it also dates from after the advent of the Third Republic, still taps the farcical vein of the Second Empire. It actually became one of the composer's greatest successes after the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71. The story involves the tavern servant-girl Marietta and her husband Giletti in a plot against Archduke Ernest, a particularly original despot. Mistaking the conspirators' code - S A D E: "Supprimer l'Archi-Duc Ernest" (Down with Archduke Ernest) for the ABC, Marietta and Giletti end up confusing everyone with their recitation of the alphabet in the course of a hilariously absurd sextet.
In spite of the fall of the Second Empire, Offenbach's work continued to be performed, but his brand of foolishness was no longer in fashion. Opéra bouffe now yielded pride of place to opéra comique. In particular, it was the rivals Charles Lecoq and Johann Strauss who triumphed with the public. Nonetheless, on 13 December 1879, Offenbach brought off another coup with La Fille du tambour-major, a success comparable to those of earlier days. Whereas in La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein he poked fun at the military, here he takes up a jingoistic theme designed to draw tears of patriotism and exultation from his listeners. This patriotic vein is notably strong in the number "Que m'importe un titre éclatant": Stella has discovered that her father is not the Duke della Volta but the old drum-major Monthabor, and in the middle of the ceremony, as she is about to marry the marquis Bambini against her will, she creates a scandal by revealing her identity and admitting that she would prefer to live the life of a vivandière under the French flag.
The expressive power of the Barcarolle from Les Contes d'Hoffmann and its perfect evocation of the Venetian setting have often been remarked upon. In reality, Offenbach composed this music 17 years before his posthumous masterpiece for his grand romantic opera Die Rheinnixen (The Rhine Nixies). Disappointed by the failure of that work at its première in Vienna in 1864, he later made use of a number of pieces in his musical testament.
(Supervising editor of the Offenbach Critical Edition published by
Boosey & Hawkes/Bote & Bock) (Translation: Richard Evidon)
La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein - Choeur, Récit et Rondeau: Portez armes - Vous animez le danger - Ah! que j'aime les militaires