> OFFENBACH La Belle Helene [RW]: Classical CD Reviews- Oct 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Belle Hélène with dialogue (1864)
Jayne Rhodes, cont. (Hélène), Rémy Corazza, ten. (Pâris), Renée Auphan, sop. (Oreste), Christine Barbaux (Bacchis), Jacques Martin (Ménélas), Michel Trempont, bar. (Calchas), Jules Bastin (Agamemnon), Gérard Friedmann (Achille), Paul Guigue (Ajax premier), Jacques Trigeau (Ajax deuxième)
Choirs of Rhin Opera/Gunter Wagner
Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra/Alain Lombard
Rec. Palais de la Musique et des Congrès de Strasbourg, December 1977 and January 1978
UNIVERSAL/ACCORD 4619542 ADD [CD1 66.45; CD2 53.30]


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This is the first Universal release of a first class performance dating from 1978. The singers are top-notch and are all on form in this favourite among Offenbach’s operettas. Although there are recordings currently available this recording should certainly be placed amongst the top.

Parisian Jacques Offenbach took the examples of Auber and Lecocq and moulded these into ‘Opéra Bouffe’, a bright and captivating style which was very successful in Parisian theatres. Its popularity rose to a zenith between 1850 and 1870 and the composer became equally popular in both Germany and Britain.

The overture used here is the shortened version and this runs into the opening chorus with good pace. The enchanting entr'acte to Act II is nicely played yet pedantic: a rallentando leading into the waltz is rather forced and obtrusive. The choir of girls at the start of Act II sounds lethargic and lifeless rather than dreamy. Again the Entr’acte to Act III is similarly laboured, but this time things wake up with the choir’s opening chorus, Dansons, buvons. The duets and arias are all delivered excellently and at the pace one would usually expect.

La Belle Hélène has three other recordings to its credit: This version compares well with the 1986 Plasson performance with Norman/Aler/Burles [CDS 747 157-8] both in singing and musical representation. A younger and fresher Burles also features as the lead in an earlier EMI Marty recording [EMI 574 085-2] where a trimmed overture and voice-over narration may not be to everyone’s liking, particularly if you’re not French. A recent Swiss DVD recording (Zurich Opera) with Harnoncourt is not available for comparison. [There is also a Virgin Minkovsky recording also on TDK DVD- Len]

The singers here are in very good form: a confident Rhodes sings Hélène with authority and feeling (CD1 tk15), but held notes can be insecure and I don’t think any upward glides are found in the score. Pure-toned tenor, Corazza, with light vibrato, is superb and provides the air of innocence expected of Pâris (CD1 tk6). The march ‘Kings of Greece’ has an unspectacular start but later gathers momentum.

Initially, the recording sounds too rich in treble but this distraction does not last. The singers and orchestra are well balanced but the choir is generally too distantly placed.

As is often customary with French CDs, the jewel case has been replaced by an attractive colourful folding card box. The booklet gives brief background information on Offenbach as well as the book’s lyricists, Meilhac and Halévy. A succinctly written synopsis is provided and, like the notes, is in French alone.

The box carries details of other French operettas in the series, and some of these will be of particular interest since they are indeed rare recordings and if up to the standard of this recording will be well worth investigating: La Mascotte (Audran) [465 877-2]; La Cocarde de Mimi Pinson (Goublier) [461 964-2]; Dede (Christiné) [461 961-2]; Phi-Phi (Christiné) [465 886-2; Là-Haut (Yvain) [461 967-2]; La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein (Offenbach) [465 871-2]; La Fille du Tambour Major (Offenbach) [461 673-2].

Raymond Walker

  Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker



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