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Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:23 PM
Offenbach: La Belle Hélène on DVD
Offenbach's La Belle Hélène, with Felicity Lott, Françoise le Roux, Michel Senechal, and Yann Beuron, Laurent Naouri, Marie-Ange Todorovich (an all-French cast except for Lott) with Les Musiciens du Louvre - Grenoble, and Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre, conducted by Marc Minkowski at the Châtelet. This is supposed to be a very good performance, so, I'm highly excited. And just by reading the track list, I'm laughing already - it will be very funny, I can tell.

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I'll be filling in my impressions as it plays.

1. Overture - very light and delicate. This performance has an orchestra with 30 intruments which adds to the delicacy. OK, now Offenbach turns up the volume and gets into a rhythm. Wonderful!

Act I
2. Introduction: Ver tes autels, Jupin - Choral piece, very lively and delicious, with a nice alternation between male and female voices, and it gets jumpy and dancing at the end. Wow!
3. Trop de fleurs - Recitatif. Very funny - Interflora, indeed!
4. Choeur des jeunes filles: C'est le devoir des jeunes filles - soft lamentation, very melodic.
5. Couplets d'Hélène: Amours divins - melancholic, very beautiful, growing to more dramatic tones, with the choeur echoing her disappointment while she sings - 'no more love, no more passion...' - then it turns comic - 'we must have love!'says Hélène, jumping up and down like a spoiled brat.
6. Calchas, restez... Toujours, fille de Léda - recitatif - mixed up with a bit of singing. Calchas is a very funny fellow.
7. Chanson d'Oreste - Au cabaret du labyrinthe - Spicy and with pizzazz! A quartet between Oreste, Calchas, and two gorgeous, scantily clad women. Wicked rhythm.
8. Mesdemoiselles, voici le Calchas demandé - recitatif, with the same melody coming back once more.
9. Monsieur? C'est vous le devin de Jupiter? - recitatif. Calchas reads Venus' letter, with beautiful strings in the background.
10. Le jugement de Pâris - Au mont Ida, trois déesses - lovely tenor aria, very French, like a balade telling the story of the judgment, very in tune with Offenbach's style, reminds me of some others in [I]Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
11. Compliments, félicitations, bravo! - more recitatif. Very funny, while Hélène is gauging Pâris physical assets...
12. Marche et couplets des rois: Voice les rois de la Grèce - spectacular chorus. Offenbach surely knows how to compose pleasant and enticing melodies!
Very funny, with the two Ajax, Achilles, all with funny melodies, the funniest of them all being Menelaus. Wait, there's more, Agamemnon now comes by, the the
Queen, and we get treated to more of the funny music.
13. Rois et peuples de la Grèce, salut à vous! - recitatif. That's when we get to satiric references to the French emperor of the Second Empire (Yep, Napoleon III) and the nobles and their love for party games. That's also where we see Offenbach ridiculing Wagner's music in Tannhäuser which Menelaus calls "German music I commissioned for the ceremony" after it appropriately sounds awful. Pretty funny stuff!
14. Finale: Gloire! Gloire au berger victorieux! Satiric stuff again, ridiculing majestic music in serious operas, and coloratura. L'Homme à la pomme, LOL!
15. Ainsi vous êtes gentilhomme - Again good comedy with Hélène very flirtatious, with Menelaus looking like a fool, light orchestration.
16. Les dieux décretent par ma voie. The light music gets dramatic again, with thunder and lightning, and Calchas sings what seems like an impressive aria, but it rapidly turns farcial again while they ship poor Menelaus to Crète so that Hélène can be alone with Pâris. Very funny scene of Hélène packing Menelaus clothes for the trip. Spectacular marching rhythm to send him out.

My score for the first act: absolutely brilliant, A+!

17. Entracte - beautiful orchestration. It's interesting to hear Offenbach delivering some seriously beautiful music in the middle of all this satiric material.

Act II
18. Choeur: O reine, en ce jour - beautiful, and as usual, turning comic pretty fast while Hélène considers different outfits - but it is a beautiful piece, no doubt about it.
19. Mais enfin, Madame, vous n'allez pas rester comme ça! - recitatif.
20. Invocation à Venus: On me nomme Hélène la blonde - pleasant, light piece, with very funny lyrics about women straying.
21. Voilà! Ça va mieux! - recitatif. Very entertaining flirtatious interaction between the queen and Pâris.
22. Marche de l'oie: Le voice, le roi des rois - Conventional. Nothing special.
23. Laisse-moi, Bacchis, laisse-moi - recitatif. The pace is slowing down. I'm afraid I may like Act II less than Act I.
24. Couplets: Je la vois, elle dort - excellent, romantic and funny at the same time. The high quality is back.
25. Duo - C'est le ciel qui m'envoie - beautiful duet, which this production turns into something really hilarious, when a bunch of sheep come into the stage; the public can't help, they laugh copiously in the middle of the duet. Very good piece, which I listened in its entirety with a smile on my face, although it is a little lenghty.
26. Ciel! Mon mari! - recitatif.
27. Finale: À moi! Rois de la Grèce, à moi! Again, large ensemble, sort of carnival music, comic piece, less funny than the previous standards. It turns bizarre at the end.
28. Ne criez pas, notre cher hôte - large ensemble once more. Interesting, with nice lyrics, but musically less remarkable, and even a little annoying at the end.
29. Couplets: Je la vois, elle dort (listed, but they don't seem to repeat it, strange).

My score for Act II: B+ - even though it is more melodious than Act I, there are some moments of slow pace and some over-lenghty parts.

30. Entracte - nice, the Châtelet production has dancers in swimmsuits, for all tastes - beautiful women and handsome men. As usual, Offenbach's orchestration is delightful and very easy on the ears. Very funny choreography.

Act III
31. Choeur et chanson d'Oreste: Dansons, aimons, buvons, chantons! They are on the beach, more satiric stuff as Offenbach criticizes Napoleon III and his trips to the beach while France was falling apart. Very good sort of drinking song. Nice! Very creative and happy.
32. L'eau est-elle bonne, bouillant Achille? - recitatif. Funny jokes about Achilles' tendon.
33. Couplets: Là, vrai, je ne suis pas coupable - nice beat. Act III is going very well so far. This piece is extraordinary.
34. Mais, ma Nénéne - recitatif.
35. Trio Patriotique: Lorsque la Grèce est un champ de carnage - More satiric references to Offenbach's fellow musicians. This is to mock Rossini's Wilhelm Tell and next, Auber's La Muete de Portici. Extremely funny!
36. Allons! Immolez-vous! More of the same, the satire continues. Agamemnon and Calchas continue to harass Menelaus so that he gives Hélène up, while Offenbach enjoys himself.
37. Quand les dieux commandent - recitatif, funny again.
38. Choeur: La galère de Cythère - beautiful choral piece. One would almost believe that this is opera seria (well, if not for everything else, LOL).
39. Couplets de Pâris: Et tout d'abord, o vile multitude - More mocking of Rossini's Tell, with severely funny Tyrolean yodelling.
40. Quelle tenue pour un augure! - recitatif.
41. Finale: Elle vient! C'est elle! - A tipsy Hélène approaches, nice choral music again, followed by very satisfactory ensembles, and interesting melody while Pâris and Hélène leave. An excellent finale, with the kind of can-can music that is typical Offenbach.

Act III score: A+

Overall score: A. Very entertaining, delicious.

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:24 PM
Offenbach: La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein on DVD
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Opéra-bouffe in 3 acts by Jacques Offenbach, to a French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy (a form of operetta, with spoken dialogue)

2004(LI) - Marc Minkowski - Les Musiciens du Louvre-Grenoble
Choeur des Musiciens du Louvre
Théâtre Musical de Paris-Châtelet

Virgin Classics, 2005 release; 2 DVDs, region-free, 16:9 image with excellent definition, LPCM stereo, DTS surround, Dolby surround with excellent balance.
Subtitles in original French, English, German, Spanish, and Italian
Running time 154 minutes. No extras.
The same performance is also available on CD.

La Grande-Duchesse: Felicity Lott
Wanda: Sandrine Piau
Fritz: Yann beuron
Le Baron Puck: Franck Leguérinel
Le Prince Paul: Eric Huchet
Le Général Boum: François Le Roux
Le Baron Crog: Boris Grappe
Népomuc: Alain Gabriel
Iza: Maryline Fallot
Olga: Blandine Staskiewicz
Charlotte: Jennifer Tani
Amélie: Aurélia Legay
Le Notaire: Christophe Grapperon

Stage directing and Costumes: Laurent Pelly
Sets: Chantal Thomas
Choreography: Laura Scozzi

Fabulous opening credits... pretty funny and well done.

Energetic, enticing overture suggesting that we're in for a treat. The orchestra/conducting are top notch.

First zany chaotic chorus, well acted, danced, sung. First aria, hilarious with rather funny lyrics, good acting, good tenor - it's a soldier (Fritz) trying to score with a young woman (Wanda) before he goes to war. This merges into a waltz danced by the whole company, faster and faster, spinning. Wow, what a start!!

The baritone Général Boum comes in, funny costume, excellent voice. Good acting. Good choreography with all the soldiers marching along. Oh! My! God! This is *really* good.

A duet between Fritz and Wanda ensues, a bit overlong and repetitious, less good than what came before it. Soprano Piau is not that especial in looks (I've been growing more and more demanding lately, especially after watching the eye-candy-rich M22) but is talented and competent as a singer/actress.

Scenarios up to this point - an arid landscape with trenches. Well done. Costumes are interesting.

A word about the plot. Baron Puck, the Grande-Duchesse's tutor, comes in to tell the general that he declared war in order to entertain the bored and depressed lady. She has been promised in marriage to Prince Paul but doesn't love him. Baron Crog is supposed to convince her to marry the prince but is not doing such a good job.

Apparently (I'm jumping ahead) what will happen is that the Grande-Duchesse will fall in love with cunning soldier Fritz and will promote him up and up to the great dispair of his biggest rival General Boum, until Fritz is given the position of Commander-In-Chief and dispatched to lead the army against the enemy. Should be fun. Let's continue.

The great Felicity Lott comes in (title role) and immediately raises the bar in terms of singing and acting. Spectacular. A pleasure to watch and hear in spite of being long in the tooth. Her opening aria, the rondo Ah, que j'aime les militaires is delightful.

The Regimental Song is next, typical Offenbach, involving again the whole company lead by Dame Lott to excellent effect. She sings surrounded by the soldiers (it's the scene on the top half of the cover picture).

Effeminate Prince Paul enters the stage, wearing a funny suit (it's him on the bottom part of the cover picture, center, with General Boum to his right and Baron Puck to his left).

The surprising melodious duet that follows is the Newspaper Report, and both Dame Lott and Mr. Huchet with his beautiful tenor voice do an excellent job.

Zany ensemble Ils vont tous partir is next and is one of the best moments of the first act. The hysterical Grande-Duchesse, having already promoted Fritz all the way to General and Commander-in-Chief, gets pretty upset to see that he still has his eyes on Wanda rather than on her. Both women engage in symmetric histrionic coloraturas, to great comic effect.

Lott performs next the couplets of the saber, Voici le sabre de mon père, with interesting orchestration. The Grande-Duchesse gives the famed weapon to Fritz, while Wanda grows increasingly distressed.

We get to the finale of the first act. My friends, it is phenomenal. Offenbach at his best. Varied, fast paced, lively. A true tour de force.

The first act alone is enough to convince me that we are facing operetta greatness. This is a great work, done by great orchestra/conductor/chorus/singers with the help of very excellent stage directing and choreography.

Second act is not as good as act I. It is... better! The Trio of the Plot is one of the best moments I've ever seen in comic opera. Pretty outstanding! Dame Felicity Lott continues to steal the show with her formidable performance, one for the ages!

Scenarios for act II are very nice with the crazy staircases going in all directions. This production - which shares with DVDs La Belle Hélène and Orphée aux Enfers the same competent team lead by Minkowski and Pelly - has added lots of music that had been previously cut in the then standard-bearer audio recording by conductor Plasson and soprano Régine Crespin - makes one wonder what else we've been missing, when we think that Offenbach composed 100 operettas, of which just a handful are available on DVD.

As an attestation to Offenbach's considerable musical powers, he includes a lyrical, delicate moment in the second act, Dites lui qu'on l'a remarqué, breaking for a while the madcap pace to provide a more intimate moment.

Then we get to the "new" finale of the second act, which wasn't there in the Plasson recording, including Le Carillon de ma grand-mère which indeed justifies all the buzz about it, it's signature Offenbach, accelerating more and more to reach a galop. The choreography is truly excellent. What a production!

Act III opens with a super funny ballet performed by men only, half of them dressed in drag as ballerinas. You gotta see it, folks. It's quite incredible.

By the way, Dame Lott is British but has excellent pronunciation and articulation in French. What a classy artist!

Third act loses pace a bit. Maybe the cuts were wise after all. The balance between spoken dialogue and music favors the former more than in other acts, dampening down the excitement, which also happens musically, since the chorus Nuptial Song and the ensemble Bonne Nuit have a slower tempo.

The Couplets of the Newlyweds recovers pace, which remains brisk with Ouvrez! Ouvrez! and reaches full Offenbachian galop again with À Cheval!

The Orchestral Entracte, another galop very similar to the one in Orphée aux Enfers is played and made more pleasant by a wickedly comic Can Can style ballet performed again by men only.

A tremendous drinking song follows with all the soldiers and all the girls drunk at the wedding party (I've not updated the plot - by now Fritz and Wanda got married, the Duchesse wanted to kill hill him for revenge, but when she saw handsome Baron Crog she thought that if she forgot about revenge and married the prince after all, she could take Crog as lover). It's a pretty fantastic drinking song, with waltz undertones.

Funny ensemble, the General's Lament, is the report of the plank that Boum played on Fritz (a more subdued revenge than killing him) having him beat up by the husband of Boum's former mistress, who took Fritz for his wife's lover.

The Grand Finale is up. General rejoicing, all ends well of course.

In spite of the third act being less good than the first two with some longueurs and less frenetic pace, it's all very satisfactory. A brilliant work, brilliantly performed.

Highly recommended. Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:25 PM
Offenbach: Ritter Blaubart (Barbe-Bleue) on DVD
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Ritter Blaubart, the German version of Barbe-Bleue, opéra bouffe in three acts
Music by Jacques Offenbach
Original French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
German adaptation by Walter Felsenstein and Horst Seeger

1973(FI) - Karl-Fritz Voigtmann - Orchestra of the Komische Oper Berlin
Chorus of the Komische Oper Berlin

Film director - Walter Felsenstein
Set design - Paul Lehmann, using elements of the setting by Wilfried Werz
Costume design - Helga Scherff

Cast

Sire de Barbe-Bleue - Hanns Nocker
Boulotte - Anny Schlemm
King Bobèche - Werner Enders
Queen Clémentine - Ruth Schob-Lipka
Princess Hermia, a.k.a. Fleurette - Ingrid Czerny
Prince Saphir, a.k.a. Daphnis - Manfred Hopp
Popolani - Rudolf Asmus
Count Oscar - Helmut Polze
Alvarez - Hans-Otto Rogge
Isaure - Irmgard Arnold
Héloïse - Evelyn Bölicke
Eléonore - Eva-Maria Baum
Rosalinde - Christa Noack
Blanche - Ute Trekel-Burckhardt

This is the famed Walter Felsenstein film of this delightful operetta, and while it is the German version (95% in German, 5% in French), it is the only DVD of this work.

The film uses settings of the Komische Oper Berlin staging, the company Felsenstein founded in East Berlin in 1947, encouraged to do so by the Soviet rulers. Felsenstein's production of Ritter Blaubart was wildly applauded in many European cities and was given not less than 369 performances over 29 years. It was seen, other than in Berlin, in Stuttgart, Stockholm, Moscow, Bologna, Warsaw, Vienna, Budapest, Leningrad, Copenhagen, London, and Tokyo.

It was never given in France, due to the French frowning upon this German version which they considered to be tampering with Offenbach's beloved work that had premiered to great acclaim in Paris in 1866. French-German animosity after WWII surely must have played a role for the French to shun this version, although it does conserve a few arias and some spoken lines in French.

Austrian-born Felsenstein probably should not have been shunned by the French, because it is quite apparent that he had for Offenbach's work the utmost respect. In defending his version, he said "in terms of content, nothing was added to Offenbach of course, who could possibly do better than Offenbach?" He did implement a non-literal translation, based on the need to preserve the rhyme, since it is an essential part of the brilliance of the libretto. Bilingual critics attest to the fact that all the wit and verve of Offenbach's original was preserved in this German version.

Felsenstein also worked tirelessly for 12 years to perfect the stage version, with meticulous comparisons to the French original and fine-tuning of several theatrical aspects to better approach the productions in Paris. Then he took upon himself to preserve this enormous amount of work in a filmed version, which is what we have in our hands right now.

Technically speaking, this is a very exquisite package. A good analogy is to compare this to the Criterion edition of famous films. This 2009 ArtHaus Musik release is akin to a collectors edition, with rich and abundant supporting material. It contains two DVDs, one with the operetta, and the other one with several documentaries and historical footage, including script segments, sketches and drafts and performance fragments of the Komische Oper 1964 production of Ritter Blaubart; two audio interviews with Felsenstein that play over still photos, and a picture gallery. The liner notes contain a separate insert with an editorial by Christoph Felsenstein on behalf of the Walter Felsenstein Estate. The larger booklet contains an exquisite and in-depth essay several pages long, about the work and the production; complete chapter/aria lists with characters and duration; period pictures and sketches, and a detailed synopsis. All of this comes in English and in German.

The picture format is 4:3, sound is PCM stereo only - but for a 1973 film, both are actually very good. Menus and subtitles come in four languages - German, English, French, and Spanish. Running time for the operetta is 139 minutes.

The operetta itself is great! One is surprised that other Offenbach works are much more famous because this one certainly is up there with his best works. The libretto contains several gems of wit and humor, the music is delightful, the pace is phenomenal; in summary, it is all great fun. It's the kind of stuff that can turn a non-operetta lover into an operetta enthusiast.

About the film itself, it is very clever. It opens with the actors, set hands, cameramen, etc., chatting about the filming that is about to start; the soprano singing Fleurette says she is nervous, and so on. Then it's lights, camera, action, and the fun begins.

There are no credits upfront. Each new character entering the set starts acting and singing then seems to remember something that he/she forgot to do, pauses, looks at the camera, bows, and the name of the character and the singer comes up. Neat!

Acting is simply phenomenal across the board. It's one of the best operatic film acting I've ever seen (you gotta see King Bobèche to believe it, wow!), reflecting the fruits of Felsenstein's 12-year work on this. Yes, it is caricature acting like a reviewer at Amazon.com complained, but come on, Mr. Reviewer, this is an Offenbach comic operetta, for Pete's sake! It's supposed to be like this! He also complains of the elaborated costumes and ladies' exaggerated eyelashes - I find it simply incredible that someone would not notice that Offenbach's works are filled to the top with satire and parody, so the right way to stage them is to let the imagination soar and get a bit OTT.

Singing is first rate as well, with a couple of weaker links but they don't really bother me given that there are so many characters who alternate in rapid succession, that a couple of less well sung passages won't spoil the fun. I won't even name the ones who don't do so well - this is a team effort, and it's a good team. A little problem here and there shouldn't impact on anybody's enthusiasm for this great work.

The image is old-fashioned, not really Technicolor, with some tint problems, but again, who cares? It is sharp and pleasant enough, and the old-fashioned feel actually in my opinion adds to the enjoyment. The stereo sound is not what one gets these days from DTS Master 7.1 tracks, but like I said, for 1973 the sound is good enough and is never bothersome.

This is a high quality operetta, filmed/acted/sung by a talented team of performers and visual media artists/technicians, packaged in a remarkably complete and rich double DVD edition.

There can't be anything else to say about this other than "highly recommended."

Buy it! Buy it! Buy it!

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:26 PM
Offenbach: Les Brigands on DVD
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1989(LI) - Claire Gibault - Orchestra of the Opéra National de Lyon

Operetta in three acts
Music by Jacques Offenbach
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy

Stage Directors Louis Erlo and Alain Maratrat
Set Design Gian Maurizio Fercioni
Video Director André Hubert

DVD released by RM Associates, representing Opéra National de Lyon/France 3/Radio France
Region code 1
Sung in French with obligatory English subtitles (no other languages)
Picture format 1.33:1
Sound tracks Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1
Running time 121 minutes, no extras
No liner notes except for a chapter list with no list of characters, no duration
No synopsis
The cast is listed without any mention of who is singing what character and no character names.

Cast:

Michel Trempont
Valerie Chevalier
Colette Alliot-Lugaz
Riccardo Cassinelli
Jean-Luc Maurette
Georges Gautier
Jean-Luc Viala
Bernard Pisani
Guy Fletchtter
Jean-Lous Meunier
Antoine Garcin

OK, folks, first of all, sometimes we want to shoot the stage director, which in this case would warrant a double murder sentence because there are two of them. I mean, why in bloody hell did these IDIOTS think that it would be cool to have a typist with an old-fashioned typewriter sitting in the middle of the stage and typing furiously - and making A LOT of noise - throughout the overture, the first choral number, and the first ensemble number??? Ten minutes of torture!

You don't like it when your seat neighbor is unwrapping candy and making those crackling noises when the performance has already started, right? That's peanuts (pun intended), folks, because this time the IMBECILE stage directors have provided the noise, and it is VERY LOUD and goes on NON STOP for 10 BLOODY MINUTES!!!! (I don't want to use F words so I'm borrowing bloody from the Brits:cool:).

And pray tell, what does the typist have to do with the staging, the plot, the music? NOTHING!!! Absolutely nothing. One can't understand why in hell these two MENTALLY RETARDED stage directors decided to put someone on stage typing on a typewriter.

I blame the conductor. Why did she allow such a travesty??? She should have said, "OK, guys, you may think this it is cool (it isn't, by the way), but you ARE NOT, I repeat, NOT spoiling Offenbach's lively overture and rather interesting two opening numbers with NO F... I MEAN, NO BLOODY TYPEWRITER NOISE!!! You just aren't doing this, or else go find another conductor!"

Then, the set design is equally retarded. I mean, I don't mind an update or change of setting as long as it makes some sense and adds to the enjoyment somehow. But this operetta with a plot that is supposed to happen in the Italian mountains and woods got transposed to some sort of American urban landscape with Don Corleone-like mafiosi, trench coats, fedoras, revolvers - OK, cool, but then, the scenario is some sort of modern three-story building, and again I don't mind it when it's visually striking, but this one is UGLY as can be. You know, you guys want to update the story, at least give me some striking visuals.

And to add insult to injury, the technical quality of this DVD is appalling. The image is blurry with horrendous definition (not better than an old VHS), and the subtitles have a pathetic translation of the witty French libretto. The sound is thin and distant.

These are the bad news.

The good news:

Offenbach's operetta as usual is lots of fun, with lively music, funny situations, interesting characters, wicked pace, and a good libretto. There is no competition for this operetta in visual media (there are older versions of this same performance in VHS, and there is a CD with Sir Gardiner conducting this same orchestra) so this is a strong point in favor of buying this.

The singers, even though it is hard to figure out who is who by the liner notes, (the credits that roll on screen do provide this information but I'm not restarting the DVD to tell you all), are pretty good.

The leading soprano - the chief bandit's daughter - is cute and with a nice soubrette voice. Her love interest - a mezzo in trouser role - is also good. The chief bandit sings well too, and the secondary roles are very adequate. This is a nice cast of unknown singers from a smallish regional opera company, and like in other DVDs I've seen from this company, they do a very decent job. Their acting is equally strong.

The orchestra plays with enthusiasm and is surprisingly good. The female conductor seems to have a good grip on this material.

So musically speaking it is very satisfactory, with a talented cast that sings and acts well and a good conductor who gets proficient playing from her orchestra. This, added to the fact that Offenbach's piece is very enjoyable and there is no competition, makes of this DVD something that is worth purchasing (by the way, it is dirt cheap, under ten dollars), in spite of the deficient package and poor technical quality, and THE TWO BLOODY INCOMPETENT STAGE DIRECTORS AND SET DESIGNER!!!

Now, schigolch will say, "you protested when I recommended a low quality DVD because the opera was good, and now you're recommending this one."

The difference is, that one was terrible in terms of technical aspects (much worse than this one although this one is rather bad), but was also very weak in musical terms with amateurish singing and bland orchestra/conducting.

This one, also containing a good piece of work (Offenbach's enjoyable operetta) is technically weak, with ugly set design and a couple of ROTTEN DEGENERATE STAGE DIRECTORS (by now you've all realized that I'm pretty upset at the stage directors, right?), but they have a good orchestra, a good conductor, and good singers/actors.

So, I'll still say "recommended."

Luiz Gazzola (Almaviva)
January 1st, 2012, 11:27 PM
Offenbach: The Tales of Hoffmann (sung in English) on DVD
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This is a 1951 British film adaptation of Jacques Offenbach's Les Contes d'Hoffmann.
It is not the full opera, emphasis on the word adaptation. There are several cuts, and some changed parts: Stella's profession is changed from an opera singer appearing in Don Giovanni to a ballet dancer - the whole thing is made into an opera-ballet, actually. Antonia's tale is shortened and doesn't include her death scene. The role of Nicklausse is abridged. All of Lindorf's music in the prologue is deleted, making of him a silent character.

There is lip-syncing - of the highest possible quality, one of the best I've seen. The performers are dancers and actors, and the singers are not physically in the movie (except Rounseville). The soundtrack is by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham (who does appear briefly at the end), and principal singers are Bond, Ayars, Grandi, Rounseville, and Dargavel. Dancers and actors are Moira Shearer, Robert Helpmann, Léonide Massine, Robert Rounseville, Pamela Brown, Ludmilla Tchérina, and Ann Ayars.

The film is written, produced, and directed by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger, with their producing company The Archers. The cinematographer is Christopher Challis; settings and costume designer is Hein Heckroth, who was nominated to two 1952 Academy Awards for his work.

Image format is 1.33:1, sound is mono, there are no subtitles. The image is not of the best possible quality, with faded colors and slightly blurry, being this a rather old movie. The sound is very good for a mono recording, with excellent balance between singers and orchestra. The DVD has numerous extras and documentaries, but I had no access to them since I saw a screening at a small auditorium, and they only played the opera itself. Given what the Criterion collection often puts together, I assume that the extras must be very good.

Here are the pros:

The visual imagery is simply spectacular, especially for 1951. Even the special effects are rather well done for this time when computer-generated imagery didn't exist. The film is great fun and delivers lots of visual pleasure.

Singing is rather excellent across the board, with a few parts a little less well sung than others (the Olympia part is a bit disappointing, more on this when I address the cons).

There is a good dose of good humor added to the opera itself, most visible in the way the credits are presented, with two particularly funny moments that I won't describe, not to spoil them for whoever decides to watch if for the first time after reading this.

The magic of Offenbach's opera is very well delivered both visually and musically, and this is one of the strongest points of this film. I believe that the team behind this film was highly talented, and they actually convey the wonderful spirit of this opera better than most DVD versions I've seen.

The first three scenes - the extended ballet prologue (longer than in the original), the scene at the tavern, and Olympia's tale are breathtaking in terms of imagery and choreography. Not only so, but they are full of imaginative solutions. Pay attention to the beer mugs in the Kleinzach scene. I couldn't stop smiling throughout these three scenes.

Antonia's scene has exquisite singing.

The Venice scene has rather strikingly beautiful women and is quite sexy, surprisingly so for this 1951 movie.

Now, the cons:

It is sung in English. Have I ever mentioned how much I dislike opera in translation? Hmm... I did... but I wasn't emphatic enough. Let me put it simply and clearly:

I HATE IT!!!!

I mean, when the rhythmic, vowel-rich refrain sung by the doll in the original as "d'O-lym-pi-aaaa," becomes "my sooooong" there is just no way to recover the beauty of the original. Olympia's little squeaks "Oui, Oui" become "Yes, Yes" completely ruining their "squeakness." Why in the hell people do this???? Can't they just sing in French and put some English subtitles for the sake of those who don't speak French? Is it this hard to read subtitles? All the elegance and sonority of Offenbach's vocal writing gets completely lost. LOST!!! This kind of thing makes me so angry that I had to calm myself down to continue to enjoy the many qualities of this work. End of rant. Let's continue with the cons.

As much as the visual imagery is striking, it doesn't maintain the same level of quality and the same surprising effects throughout the film. Up to the Venice/Giulietta scene everything goes very well, but Antonia's tale (which here is performed last) isn't even close to the initial sophistication of the visual imagery, which is a bit of a letdown.

The Olympia scene is particularly weak in one rather fundamental aspect: Olympia is presented as a ballerina, therefore without the doll-like mechanical movements that traditionally are used for this scene. The choreography fails to match the music at certain points. This is not helped by the fact that the singer doing Olympia is the least good of the entire cast. I must add that this is the only part of the Olympia tale that doesn't go well, because the rest of it is pretty spectacular, with several funny and imaginative elements.

Verdict: you know, there are so many redeeming elements that I'm actually tempted to say Highly Recommended, but I just can't force myself to highly recommend a performance of opera in translation, especially in the case of an opera that relays so much on the sounds of the French language. Les Contes d'Hoffmann is not an opera that can be easily translated out of its elegant French sonority, and for this reason (and a bit for the other cons that I've mentioned above) I'll only say Recommended.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 09:17 PM
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41N9FK0KARL._SL500_AA300_.jpg

This a hilarious and sexy performance of this galloping operetta. Felicity Lott is an older woman disenchanted with her dreary husband who dreams of a love story where she is Helen of Troy, the most beautiful woman in the world, and the plot tells of her escape with the attractive Paris. She is just brilliant, her French is near-perfect and she is very funny. Admittedly her voice is not what it once was but I'll forgive her because of the fun. Yann Beuron stands up well as the love interest (he can yodel too:ohmy:).

The set moves from mythology through an archeological site to a modern Greek resort to comic effect. The staging has wonderful energy, lots of dancing and movement, very inventive.

I first saw it on Classical TV (http://www.classicaltv.com/v1123/opera/offenbach-la-belle-helene-chatelet-theatre-paris) and I'm glad I bought the DVD. I'll watch it when I need cheering up.

Soave_Fanciulla
January 2nd, 2012, 09:18 PM
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Felicity Lott repeats her Belle Hélène cougar act, (but this time it's actually an integral part of the story), Yann Beuron plays the reluctant love interest and Sandrine Piau is the gawky village maiden. It's all a great romp in that rather hammy comedic style that is so prevalent in the French theatre, encouraged by what I can only describe as madcap staging by Laurent Pelly.

Aksel
January 5th, 2012, 05:29 PM
Look, I watched another opera! Or opéra-bouffe, I should say rather. Potato potato. Actually, come to think of it, this was actually a re-watch. But never mind. Let's get on with it.

This time it was the 2007 La Vie Parisienne from Opéra de Lyon directed by Laurent Pelly. Also, there's video at the end.

http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/51s5y9z5VmL._SS400_.jpg

Plot-wise, this opera's not too good, really. It's mostly a comedy about good-looking people having fun, complete with a Swedish baron, a Swiss admiral and a glover and a bootmaker masquerading as a colonel's widow and a major respectively. For those wanting a more in-depth look into the plot, it should be possible to click here. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La_vie_parisienne)

I loved the staging for this opera. It's set in modern-day Paris, and there's nothing more to really say about it.

There have been made some changes to the libretto, both the dialogue and the singing itself. The changes to the dialogue are done to make it more appropriate for the modern-day setting, and I didn't mind them too much. The changes to the singing is rather subtle, and the only thing I really noticed was the Baroness de Gondremark saying they would like to see Dessay in Don Pasquale and Bartoli in Le Sappeur. I found these changes rather charming.

It is also worth mentioning that the entre'acte ballets were very delightful.

The cast was almost totally French, except the American baritone Marc Callahan playing/singing the role of Bobinet and another American, tenor Jesus Garcia playing the part of the Brazilian. You could hear that Callahan especially was not a native French speaker, but it didn't really matter much.


Playing the role of Raoul de Gardefeu, one of the two Parisian dandies of the opera, was Jean-Sébastien Bou. He was very funny in his dialogues and his singing was one of the best.

In the role of the other Parisian Dandy, Bobinet, there is Marc Callahan. Aside from being rather good-looking and a good actor, his singing was rather good, bordering on average.

As Métella, the object of seemingly everyone's affection, there was Maria Riccarda Wesseling. She only appears three times during the whole opera, and then only for rather short periods of time. Her singing wasn't really too ideal for the part, and I found it a bit too heavy.

The Baron and Baroness of Gondremark, the noble Swedes let loose in Paris, were played by Laurent Naouri and Michelle Canniccioni respectively. When they first enter in act one, they are talking Swedish, a nice touch, although I must say it is quite possibly the worst Swedish I've ever heard. Naouri sings superbly and his acting is certainly no worse. Canniccioni doesn't spend as much time as her on-stage husband, who has at least two and a half acts dedicated to himself. Since she's not too much on stage, we don't really get to hear her sing too often, but she sings well.

Gabrielle, Gardefeu's glover is played by Marie Devellereau. To me, she is really the stand-out performer in this opera. She is charming, funny and her singing is great. I especially enjoyed her "Je suis veuve d’un colonel" which was perfectly hilarious. Her "On va courir, on va sortir" was delightfully silly. Her duet and aria with Frick was also very funny indeed. So really, I enjoyed just about everything she did in this opera.

Jean-Paul Fouchécourt played Frick, Gardefeu's bootmaker. His acting was thoroughly enjoyable and his singing was rather good. I did, however find his vibrato a bit too wobbly.

The Brazilian was played by Jesus Garcia. I did find his character to be a bit over-the-top, especially in the last act when he starts waving guns around, but it was fun nonetheless. His singing is good, although he does have a tendency of being late, something that was especially apparent in his rondo.

In short, the singers in this production aren't really the best, but they are good. Combined with a very funny production and very good acting, this is definitely one to get if Offenbach's operettas floats your boat.


And I promised video at the end.

The end of act 2, including Je suis veuve d'un colonel:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QvkyWGRS6ok

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GReTVAq_kTE&feature=related

One of the more famous numbers from this operetta: On va courir, on va sortir (Now with both song and dance!)



My favourite of the numbers:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fD4OhLAN-g

The song and dance spectacle that is the finale of act 4:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H-qZCstkkso