Recordings


On the Offenbach discography
Offenbach Specialists
The French Vocal School
Viennese Versions
Rarities and Curiosities
Summaries
Les Contes d’Hoffmann
Songs and chamber music
Symphonic works


Recordings based on OEK editions:
 
Introduction, Prière et Boléro
Camille Thomas, cello / Orchestre National de Lille / Alexandre Bloch
DG 47975205
 
Orchestral works
Overtures from Orphée aux Enfers, La Belle Hélène, La Fille du tambour-major, Barbe-bleue, Le Mariage aux lanternes, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, Vert-Vert & La Vie parisienne / Overture and Ballet from Le Voyage dans la lune / Intermede and Barcarolle from Les Contes d'Hoffmann
Orchestre de la Suisse Romande / Neeme Järvi
Chandos CHSA 5160
 
La Belle Hélène
Larmore / Han / Galliard / Rud / Loeb / Miedl / Edri / Hamburg State Opera Choir / Philharmoniker Hamburg / Cond.: Gerrit Prießnitz / Dir.: Renaud Doucet / Decors & costumes: André Barbe (Hamburg 2014)
Unitel Classica / C Major
Blu-Ray 730908 / DVD 731004
 
Fantasio
Connolly / Braun / Murray / Rae / Simmonds / Davies / Sherratt / Hall / Ring / Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment / Opera Rara Chorus / Sir Mark Elder
Opera Rara ORC51

Vert-Vert
World Premiere Recording
Einarsdottir / Taylor / Crowe / Spence / Le Brocq / Stone / Owens / Leguerinel / Felix / Larmore / Droy / Lopez / Geoffrey Mitchell Choir / Philharmonia Orchestra / David Parry
OPERA RARA ORC41 CD

 

Cello Duos opp.51–54
Raphaël Chréttien / Jérôme Pernoo
Lidi 0302194-08 (distribution Harmonia Mundi)

 

La Vie parisienne
Jean-Paul Fouchécourt / Jean-Sébastien Bou / Jesus Garcia / Laurent Naouri / Marc Callahan / Maria Ricarda Wesseling / Sebastien Rouland, cond. / directed by Laurent Pelly (Opéra de Lyon, 2007)
EMI/Virgin DVD 6525112

 

"Belle Nuit" – Vesselina Kasarova sings Offenbach
Exceprts from La Périchole, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein and other works
Bavarian Radio Chorus / Münchner Rundfunk­orchester / Ulf Schirmer
Sony / RCA Red Seal 88697234552

 

La Périchole
Sabine Brohm / Ralf Simon / Gerd Wiemer / Bernd Könnes / Marcus Günzel / Staatsoperette Dresden / Ernst Theis
cpo 777 493-2
 
"Folies dansantes chez Jacques Offenbach"
Quadrilles and fantaisies by Strauss, Métra, Marx et Dufils based on La Belle Hélène, La Diva, Les Bergers, La Vie parisienne, Bagatelle, Robinson Crusoé and Belle Lurette by Jacques Offenbach (2 CD: Concert versions and long versions, for dance)
Solistes de l’Orchestre Pasdeloup / Jean Christophe Keck
Orphée 58 ORP68001/1

 

"Entre Nous" – Celebrating Offenbach
with excerpts from: Le Voyage dans la lune / Geneviève de Brabant / La Jolie parfumeuse / Vert-Vert / Belle Lurette / La Diva / Les Bergers / La Boulangère a des écus / La Créole and other works
Jennifer Larmore / Alastair Miles and many others / London Philharmonic Orchestra / David Parry
Opera Rara ORR243

 

Le Financier et le Savetier
and excerpts from: Madame Favart / Les Bavards / Dragonette / L’Ile de Tulipatan / Fantasio / La Fille du tambour-major
Raphanel / Huchet / Thézan / Bialecki / Orchestre des Concerts Pasdeloup / Jean-Christophe Keck
Association des Concerts Pasdeloup / Universal Music 442 8964

 

"Offenbach Romantique"
Ouverture from Orphée aux enfers / Grand concerto pour violoncelle et orchestre / Ouverture & N° 17 (Ballet et Grande valse) from Les Fées du Rhin / Ballet des Flocons de Neige from Le Voyage dans la Lune
Jérôme Pernoo / Les Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski
DG CD 477 640-3

 

"Ballade symphonique"
Orchestral pieces
Souvenir d’Aix-les-bains and preludes and melodramas from the stage works La Vie parisienne / Les Bergers / La Périchole / Trafalgar – sur un volcan / Orphée aux enfers / Ba-Ta-Clan / Barbe-Bleue
Orchestre National de Montpellier / Jean-Christophe Keck
Universal/Accord-Euterp 476 8999

 

La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein
For the first time on CD/DVD in the complete original version
Lott / Piau / Beuron / Leguérinel / Huchet / Le Roux / Les Musiciens & Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre Grenoble / Marc Minkowski
EMI / Virgin CD 545734 2 / DVD 310239 9

 

Anne Sofie von Otter sings Offenbach
Arias and Scenes
"All of Offenbach’s faces" were discovered by Anne Sophie von Otter and the Musiciens du Louvre under the direction of Marc Minkowski in a concert at the Théâtre du Chatelet in Paris on 22 December 2002.
Anne Sofie von Otter / Chœur des Musiciens du Louvre / Les Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski
DG 471 501-2

 

Les Fées du Rhin
World premiere recording of Offenbach’s grand romantic opera from Montpellier 2002 –"irresistible" (Diapason).
Schörg / Gubisch / Beczala and others / Orchestra National de Montpellier / Friedemann Layer
Universal/Accord CD 472 920-2

 

Below, editor-in-chief Jean-Christophe Keck gives insight into the various performance traditions of Offenbach’s works, as far as they have been documented as sound recordings.

Recordings mentioned in this article:

Ba-ta-clan
Les Bavards
Orchestra Jean-François Paillard / Chœur et Orchestra Lyrique de l’O.R.T.F / Marcel Couraud
ERATO 0630 199 89 2

Orphée aux enfers
Mesplé / Sénechal and others / Chœurs et Orchestre du Capitole de Toulouse / Michel Plasson
EMI CDS 749 647 2

Orphée aux enfers
D’Oyly Carte Opera Company / John Owen Edwards
SONY CLASSICAL S2K 66616

La Vie parisienne (German)
Rothenberger / Bakker / Dallapozza and others / Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks / Münchner Rundfunkorchester / Mattes
EMI 7243 5 65360 2

Robinson Crusoé
Brecknock / Kenny and others / Royal Philharmonic Orchestra / Alun Francis
OPERA RARA ORC 7

Offenbach au menu
MAGUELONE MAG 350 506

Almeida
PHILIPS 422 057-2

Auswahl
EMI 0777 7 675 5 28

Anthologie
FORLANE 16766 / 16778 /
16783 / 16788

Offenbach au menu
MAGUELONE MAG 350 506

Almeida
PHILIPS 422 057-2

Auswahl
EMI 0777 7 675 5 28

Anthologie
FORLANE 16766 / 16778 /
16783 / 16788

On the Offenbach discography

The "official" Offenbach discography currently consists of about 20 items. That is not much compared to a catalogue of works that contains over 600 titles. Almost 200 new recordings have been released since the first CD came out! I have tried to arrange those recordings that seem to me the most interesting and valuable. I want to encourage you to listen to them as they provide an opportunity to get to know Offenbach’s work in the best and most enjoyable manner.

There was a spirit ten years ago in the ORTF (the French Radio and Television Corporation) that has since unfortunately disappeared. A group of artists - singers and actors - trained in the old school of French vocal technique had the lead then and was supported by famous conductors who knew the Buffo-repertoire intimately. This happy group was lead by Lina Dachary, an exquisite Offenbach interpreter. So admirably did she serve the music of this composer that one could call her the "Hortense Schneider of the Radio". Her male counterpart was Aimé Doniat. If one would want to list the number of roles he has endowed with his talent and wit it would be a staggering one. Unfortunately only a few titles were released on LP, which is due to a lack of initiative but also to the fact that the recording quality of former times rarely satisfies today’s listeners. Equally deplorable is the amount of wrong notes and imprecision, that mark these recordings in spite of the fact that excellent conductors were at the podium. The performance materials must have been deficient or the number of rehearsals too little. Still some remarkable if incomplete recordings should be named: Barbe-Bleue (released on Bourg and re-released on several different labels), Les Bavards, Ba-ta-clan (Erato), Madame l’Archiduc and La Chanson de Fortunio (Gaîté lyrique and Musidisc), None of these recordings feature stars but offer true Offenbachian spirit instead.

Offenbach Specialists

There is a conductor who in my opinion understands Offenbach’s music like no other: Richard Bonynge. Listening to the two recordings he made for Decca one regrets that he did not produce more. His Papillon (Offenbach’s great Romantic ballet) and his Contes d’Hoffmann may be incomplete and questionable from a musicological standpoint. But the musical result is thoroughly enjoyable: the orchestra sound is transparent and light, the tempi are inspired, there is attention for the details and all of this delivered with a brilliant recording technique. Mr. Bonygne loves Offenbach’s music - a real feast for the ear!

Michel Plasson has also done much for Offenbach’s music. One can argue about his choices of interpretation (especially his occasionally extremely slow tempi). Nevertheless he is an important protagonist of French music in general and Offenbach in particular. From 1970 on he began recording the following operas for EMI: Orphée aux Enfers, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein, La Vie parisienne, La Périchole and La Belle Hélène.
One deplores the fact that none of these "complete recordings" are actually complete. Until today hardly any work of Offenbach has been recorded in its entirety. But Michel Plasson knew, that these opéras-bouffes needed to be treated with much respect (something that unfortunately is not always the case as a rule). Thanks to him many listeners have understood that Offenbach is an important composer of the Romantic age and a worthy heir of the music of his heroes Mozart, Rossini and Auber, and who can only be served by excellent singers and musicians. Therefore, Michel Plasson may be considered as one the greatest advocates in Offenbach’s catalogue of recorded works.

In past years EMI has produced several successful recordings mostly in collaboration with the Opéra National de Lyon: Les Brigands (John Eliot Gardiner) and yet another Orphée aux Enfers (Marc Minkowski). It is incomprehensible, however, that in both productions the original libretti and orchestrations were "revised" and several cuts and other interventions were made. From the philological perspective both productions are contestable. But there are great musical moments in which Offenbach’s Romantic soul and dazzling wit come to the fore.

I should also mention the Orphée aux Enfers, released by SONY. This is finally a recording of the complete version from 1858, finely rendered - but in English. This is in my opinion the best performance yet of the 1858-version.

One should also not forget the compilation of one-act-works under the title "Vive Offenbach". They are Mesdames de la Halle, Monsieur Choufleuri restera chez lui le..., and Pomme d’Api. Even though the conductor, Manuel Rosenthal (author of Gaîté parisienne) could not resist changing the instrumentation and cutting sections, the result is a masterpiece, thanks to the high quality of the singers.

The French Vocal School

There are a few more "gems"on the market that are based on an early series of Vinyl-recordings of EMI and Philipps. While Manuel Rosenthal’s La Belle Hélène in its unbalanced interpretation never quite convinced me, Carivan’s La Vie parisienne did with its charm and excellent role casting. It is evident that all participants, conductor, singers, know Offenbach well. My favorite, however, are the six works chosen by EMI: Orphée aux Enfers, La Belle Hélène, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein ,La Vie Parisienne, La Périchole, and La Fille du tambour-major. They are an immediate testimony of what the French vocal school once was: flawless diction and a characteristic brightness and roundness of sound to the ensemble of singers and conductors. Today the so-called international sound is given preference. This derives from the aesthetically-focussed Italian school that hardly fits Offenbach, who much rather needs immediacy and a naturally transparent sound. It may be important to point out that each of the participating conductors stand in a solid theatre tradition and have broad knowledge of the repertoire, which is why the result turned out so soundly.

Viennese Versions

Besides these French productions EMI offers the German-speaking listener a series of complete recordings of Orphée aux Enfers, La Belle Hélène, La Vie Parisienne, and La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein which are interesting, as they present the Viennese version of each piece and allow observation of Offenbach’s own changes and additions in orchestration. On the whole these recordings are excellently interpreted and have a bright sound. Unfortunately some of the tempi are heavy, instilling a Germanic rather than Parisian spirit. Many conductors equate instrumental richness with heaviness, which is why Offenbach’s Viennese versions have long since and erroneously been considered too massive.

Rarities and Curiosities

Furthermore an interested audience may thank the Opera Rara Company for two high- quality recordings of rarely heard pieces: Robinson Crusoé (a comical opera composed in 1867) in its complete version in English, and Christopher Colombus, assembled here as an intelligent montage created by Dom White, featuring numerous great but rather unknown passages of Offenbach’s score without loosing musical nor dramaturgical energy.

Our overview of the discography of Offenbach’s stage works would be incomplete had we not mentioned several archival recordings that were recently released on Forlane and ARB. Of prime importance is the "Offenbach Anthology" of Forlane, which unites on four CDs a selection of the most famous pieces from the collection of Laurent Fraison. Since these are very old recordings, partly with singers that had sung in the premieres of Offenbach’s last works, one can get a good idea of how this music was performed in that era. This is a document of unique value. ARB has a disc with a recording from 1931 entitled "Au Coeur de l’Operette, la fête" that brings together several excerpts from La Vie Parisienne.

Summaries

As one can see, producers are primarily interested in "successful" works and mostly neglect the true masterworks such as Fantasio, Geneviève de Brabant, La Princesse de Trébizonde, or Maître Péronill. Fortunately, French and German radio archives own the recordings - but for the melomaniac they remain difficult to get a hold of.
It is deplorable that many of the old recordings are still not available on CD. At least the release of the great and complete Périchole of Igor Markevitch and Jean-Pierre Marty’s La Belle Hélène are immanent. But how long will we have to wait for Leibowitz’ grandiose trilogy (Orphée aux Enfers, La Belle Hélène, La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein), for Pinchas Steinberg’s Viennese version of the Brigands, or for Alain Lombard’s La Belle Hélène? It would be only right if the larger companies would gain an interest in the many works of Offenbach that remain unfortunately still rather unknown.

Les Contes d’Hoffmann

Within this context it is impossible to speak about Les Contes d’Hoffmann in detail. There are too many productions of varying qualities the best of which curiously have not yet received the honour of being released on CD. My personal favorites are the two recordings by André Cluytens with excellent singers, recorded in 1948 and 1965 (both on EMI). They are based on the traditional Choudens-Edition.

Songs and chamber music

Once one has learned about the large amount of chamber music that Offenbach wrote one can’t but be surprised at the modest selection of available recordings. Only the Six Fables de La Fontaine are featured on EMI (François Le Roux, baritone; Jeff Cohen, piano). Concerning the pieces for cello, a few duos can be found performed by Etienne Peclard and Roland Pidoux (Harmonia Mundi) or Philippe Muller and Alain Meunier (Arion). Furthermore, a few live-recordings are available of some pieces, such as Les Larmes de Jacqueline, Harmonies du Soir, Danse Bohémienne, or Introduction et valse mélancolique.

Symphonic works

The same holds true for symphonic music and solo concerti. As the available performance material was in no satisfactory condition, or simply impossible to find, there was little incentive to record these works. Of the recommendations that we list below, few are good examples of serious editing. Some of them are plagued by an abundance of marks, arrangements and changes on the instrumentation. The following already recorded works could greatly benefit from competent editorship:
Musette pour violoncelle et orchestre (Fidler - RCA), Offenbach Waltz (American Eagle Waltz) pour cornet à pistons et grand orchestre, Souvenir d’Aix-les-Bains, Schüler-Polka, Ouverture à grand orchestre, Concertino pour violoncelle (Kunzel - RCA). Concerning the Concerto militaire pour violoncelle et orchestre, I would like to point out the wonderfully interpreted version of Ofra Harnoy and Antonio de Almeida (RCA), which remains questionable, however, from the standpoint of authenticity and completeness.

Finally, we’d like to remind you that several recordings of overtures and concerti exist, two of which deserve special mention due to their excellent quality: "Ouvertures et Ballets" (Almeida - Philips), and "Offenbach au menu" (Dibbern - Maguelone).

© Jean-Christophe Keck. Any use outside of the tight borders outside of ownership law is prohibited without the consent of the author.
 


NEW PUBLICATION


Fantasio
Piano-vocal score (French)
979-0-2025-3472-4
236pp, paperback