This is a worthy reading of one of Massenet's best scores, thoughtfully conducted by Kent Nagano. Anne Sofie von Otter combines intelligence and a beautiful voice with passion and conviction in the complicated character of Charlotte. Tenor Jerry Hadley is occasionally afflicted by a musical-theater tendency to croon but expresses most of the torments of the title role, while Dawn Upshaw makes a better-rounded character of Sophie than the average soubrette.
There’s something special about this version of Different Trains. It’s the one commissioned by Wolfgang Sawallisch and David Robertson and their respective orchestras (Philadelphia and Lyon) in 2001 for string orchestra, and it impresses immediately by the richness of its vastly expanded sound palette. Though it may be heresy to say so, I never found the original string quartet version entirely convincing. This recording shows why: inside that frenetic chamber work was a much larger piece trying to get out, and here it is, fully realised, as it were, in glorious technicolor.
Frank Dunlop's witty, unvarnished view of Donizetti's country comedy, updated to the 1930s, is delightful to see, wondrous to hear. Gheorghiu and Alagna make an ideal partnership as capricious girl and shy bumpkin. They both act and sing their roles to near perfection in a staging that exposes the heart and heartlessness as much as the fun of this work.
The Marriage of Figaro, as this elegant 1994 production brilliantly reminds us, was a French bedroom comedy before it became a Mozart opera. It is a classic of French literature, and it is still enjoyable as a spoken play after more than two centuries of existence. Its literary quality gives this production a special flavor. The music–some of Mozart's finest–is beautifully presented by a carefully chosen international cast (including Giovanni Furlanetto, Elzbieta Szymtka, Janice Watson, and Ludovic Tezier), but what sets this production apart is its theatrical flavor, cultivated by a director who is an expert on classic French theater. The standards of spoken theater are upheld in timing, body language, the inflection of punch lines. These qualities are more important here than in most operas; style is both crucial and elusive. Fortunately, the Opera de Lyon, one of most imaginative companies in Europe, shows an impressive sense of style. (Joe McLellan)
After La Grande Duchesse de Gérolstein, and La Fille du régiment, Virgin Classics develops its DVD catalogue with yet a new stage production by renowned director Laurent Pelly (his 3rd for the label) accompanied by his assistant Agathe Mélinand who again adapted the dialogues as in the other productions. Filmed in Lyons during the performances (18th December – 1st January 2008) the production and the cast re-enacted in our moderns times the satirical portrayal of Parisian life in the Second Empire. The performances were a hit: Laurent Pelly brought to Offenbach’s operetta all the gusto and humour the subject calls for – his staging is wild and frenzied. La Vie parisienne was Offenbach's first full-length piece to portray contemporary Parisian life, unlike his earlier period pieces and mythological subjects. It became one of Offenbach's most popular operettas.
Léo Delibes was 30 years old when he achieved his critical breakthrough in France’s musical metropolis and created his classic Coppélia. The scenery for this fairy-tale piece was designed by Charles Nuitter, and the story was taken from E.T.A. Hoffmann’s Der Sandmann (The Sandman). In 1994 the Opéra National de Lyon performed Léo Delibes’s ballet Coppélia under the choreography of Maguy Marin. This special video production by legend Thomas Grimm was fi lmed on location in Lyon and in the studio. Star conductor Kent Nagano directs the orchestra of the Lyon National Opera.
In spite of the French title, and the conductor known for his interest in period performance, this is not the French Orphee et Eurydice of 1774; it is a different 'period version', the period in question being not Gluck's but that of Berlioz (or, as we shall see, nearly so). In 1859, Berlioz, always a passionate admirer of Gluck, prepared a version of the opera for the contralto Pauline Viardot. The alto version of the opera was of course the original Italian one, of 1762, for a castrato, but Berlioz wanted to incorporate some of the changes Gluck had made in 1774 and to use a French text. His compromise version has served as the basis for most revivals of the opera, in whatever language, from then until relatively recent times, though its four-act structure has rarely been followed.