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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein operetta, (complete with dialogue) (1867)
Suzanne Lafaye (sop) La Grande Duchesse; Michèle Raynaud (sop) Wanda; Jean Aubert (ten) Fritz; Henry Bedex (bass) Le Général Boum; Christian Asse (bar) Prince Paul; René Terrasson (bar) Baron Puck. Narrator: Pierre Hiegel
Choir and Orchestra directed by Jean-Claude Hartemann
Rec. Universal Decca Studios, Antony, France 1966
2CDs for the price of one

This is an excellent recording from the Accord series and represents Offenbach in his lighter vein with a myriad of good vocal numbers and nice elements of humour. The libretto made an attempt at parodying the romance of Catherine the Great, Napoleon III, as well as the early German courts.

The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein is one of France’s favourite operettas. First produced in 1865 it took Paris by storm in the same way eleven years later Pinafore took London by storm. Offenbach is inventive with some good musical ideas but these are related as much to orchestral decoration as melodic vocal line. Its music flows. Tunes like the 'Dites-lui' number used to be whistled with abundance in the streets. The critics loved it and some thought the operetta better than the by then well-established La Belle Hélène.

The soloists are well suited to their roles with both the Grand Duchess and Wanda (Suzanne Lafaye and Michèle Raynaud) adopting suitable dominance with their strong and wide-ranging voices. As Fritz Jean Aubert is somewhat light for his duets with the Grand Duchess and Wanda. The narrative is convincingly spoken (and only the brief appearance of a rather artificial horse effect disappoints).

The recording was made in the 1960s in a dryish acoustic and allows all sections of the modest-sized orchestra to be clearly heard. One ceases to be aware of any dryness after the first couple of tracks, incidentally. The vivacious pace set by Hartemann enhances the good rhythms and is perfect for this genre.

Brief notes in French are provided in the attractive card case, that matches the rest of the series.

Raymond Walker

Operette series from Universal Accord reviewed by Ray Walker


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