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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Fille du Tambour Major (1879)
Christiane Harbell (sop) Stella; Etienne Arnaud (ten) Robert; Monique De Pondeau (sop) Claudine; André Mallabrera (ten) Griolet; Louis Musy (bar) Monthabor
choir and orchestra directed by Richard Blareau
Rec. Universal Decca Studios, Antony, France, 1962
2 CDs for the price of one

This recording is one of the rarer items in the Accord Operette series and is the only recording of the work available complete; otherwise, only the six-minute overture and one song can be found in the current catalogue. One theme stands out as being familiar; this was recycled by Offenbach and reused from his Gaïté Parisienne.

Accord's vintage recording (made in the early days of stereo) is very good and like a number of recordings in this series, the usual pit orchestra is replaced by one of bigger proportions.

Little is heard of La Fille de Tambour Major nowadays probably because it is not your run-of-the-mill Offenbach. Jacques Offenbach premièred this work at the Théâtre des Folies-Dramatique, some fifteen years after the brilliant reception given to La Belle Hélène assured Offenbach of lasting popularity. It is late Offenbach and followed Madame Favart (1878) which, according to Ganzl, was one of Britain's long-time favourites, yet not even one British recording exists. Despite a poor plot not far removed from that of Donizetti's Daughter of the Regiment, the exciting music saved the work from failure.

This is Offenbach set in French/Italian wartime surroundings. In it the composer adopts an unusually complex style for some of the melody lines. Could thoughts of Hoffmann (about to be written) have been in his mind? A few of the vocal numbers in Tambour Major are quite taxing for the singers, but luckily Decca had assembled a strong principal cast for this 1962 recording, and so nothing is lost.

Christiane Harbell has an engaging velvety timbre to her voice, and as daughter of the Duke gives the necessary confidence expected of her station. She carries off the difficult aria, 'A vraiment, je le déclare' with its unexpected groups of semi-quavers with amazing ease. Lieutenant Robert is given no solo aria, but in his duet with Stella he comes across with relaxed elegance.

Offenbach has given the characters Claudine and Griolet (a soldier) much prominence in the operetta. As Claudine, Monique de Pondeau shows that her light soprano is versatile and well able to hold breezy phrases with strong variation in dynamics. Offenbach provides her with a rather poor (donkey) aria with noisy ‘hee-haws' echoed by the chorus. Despite its crudeness she makes the most of the material [CD1 tk.5]. More pleasing is her ensemble and duet with Griolet that follows [CD1 tks. 6, 10]. As Griolet, André Mallabrera portrays the necessary strength of character and sings his amorous Act 1 aria with dramatic tenderness and good clarity [CD1 tk. 7].

Max de Rieux's production with the performance under Richard Blareau's direction is polished. Some tricky orchestral phrases are handed with ease by a large orchestra that is clearly 'on the ball'.

The recording is clear and well balanced, with nice clarity to the singing.

Brief notes in French are provided in an attractive card case.

Raymond Walker

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker



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