Offenbach's light-hearted opera is based on the story of Helen of Troy. Helmut Lohner's lavish interpretation is delightfully entertaining, highlighting the declining social mores of the Parisian upper classes under the se... more »cond empire. Conductor Nikolaus Harnoncourt conjures up an unusual combination of sounds and a new listening experience, with an orchestra configured to replicate that which would have been available to Offenbach.« less
Brilliant Production of One of the Gems of Operetta
C. T. Hadavas | Beloit, WI USA | 06/30/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Adrian Edwards, the Amazon reviewer from England, is only half-right in his critique of this disc. The production, in fact, is every bit as enticing as the beautiful music-making that Harnoncourt elicits from the orchestra of the Zurich Opera house. In fact, it perfectly complements Offenbach's zany, endlessly melodious score and Meilhac and Halevy's surprisingly sophisticated libretto (which parodies the myths surrounding the origins of the Trojan War as well as the 'changing' morals of the Second Empire's elite). The costumes of the chorus are wonderfully inventive: ancient Greco-Roman togas filtered through a 20th-century post-impressionist artistic prism (Matisse and Picasso are especially invoked). The costumes of the leads are less 'beautiful' but even more pointedly comical/satirical: the two Ajaxes joined by their military uniforms as 'siamese twins'; Achilles' shield emblazoned with a cartoonish chicken (contrast Homer's account in Iliad 18); Paris' lederhosen is a particularly nice local touch (I think that everyone in the Swiss audience would have gotten the obvious allusion that somehow eluded Mr. Edwards).Concerning some of Edward's really off-target comments: (1) The backdrop is not an 'awning,' but an exact replica (except for the color!) of the interior dome of the Pantheon--the greatest building to survive from ancient Rome. (2) To criticize Kasarova as not possessing the physical beauty of Helen is really inexcusable. In addition to being physically more attractive than 90% of most sopranos, Kasarova is, from a vocal and theatrical perspective, 100% Helen: sultry, alluring, and flirtatious--the perfect coquette. In short, a disc to treasure."
Delicious Work Masterfully Performed
I. Martinez-Ybor | Miami, FL USA | 10/28/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"It is so rare to see an Offenbach operetta performed today that, if nothing else, this is worth the price for the sake of curiosity. It happens to be a delightful work (much of it used in Rosenthal's ballet arrangement "Gaité Parisienne"). The text is insouciant and witty, and the music sparkles. The beautiful Zurich Opera cast from strength: Vasselina Kassarova as Hélène is a delight. She also happens to be one of the pre-eminent artists of our time, a mezzo of radiant voice, temperament, splendid technique, with rare coloratura skills. Mr. van der Walt whose name looks Dutch sounds like a French tenor of old, a light but carrying sound, full of color, with heady top notes and truly elegant musical artistry. The supporting cast is all superb, with exact singing and plenty of joie. Nikolaus Harnoncourt, so long associated with Zurich in Monteverdi and Mozart does wonders for Offenbach. It is my understanding that 19th century instruments were used. The clarity, color, inflections he gets from his orchestra are astonishing. His inner drive, rubato, his sheer joy of music making comes through in every bar of the score. It is indeed a pleasure to see this conductor whom I first encountered in ascerbic albeit moving, austere performances of Bach Cantatas and Passions, making such successful excursions into the romantic theatre repertoire. I hope he has more up his sleeve. Get this DVD..... you'll go back to it. By the way, the production is nothing special but the acting is invariably good, with excellent rapport within the ensemble. It looks well directed."
A. Grossman | Florence, Oregon USA | 07/06/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"What a pleasure to see such an enchanting musical. Opera haters could even take a liking to it. It is simply fun to see such a wonderful, happy production. Titles are perfect and do not intrude and the entire cast seems to be having an absolute ball. The Met can continue to do snorers like Tristan but I will take Offenbach over Wagner any day. It has been nearly a half century since the Met has done any Offenbach except for Tales. A shame. In the climate the world is in today we can do much worse than see and hear Offenbach. This Helen is a sure cure for whatever is bothering you."
La Belle Opera
A. BOSS | Mountainside, NJ United States | 10/20/2001
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Harnoncourt really captures the spirit of this light opera, and the entire cast seem to enjoy themselves, which makes it a thoroughly enjoyable experience. This is Offenbach the way it should be done."
Fresh comedy and cheerful melodies
Mrs. Sunar Tjahjono | Jakarta, Indonesia | 05/11/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"In the event you would wish to watch something very light, fresh, cheerful and relaxing in dvd form available operetes, then this may be your choice which you can enjoy until the end. The music has a unique nuance of sound, which charcterized Offenbach's difference in music with other Italian based operas. It has the similarity to French music and liveliness. The fresh and cheerful comedy also add to the beauty of this operete. The singers, Vesselina Kasarova as Helene and Deon Van de Walt as Paris, although rather unknown to opera lovers in dvds, are performing excellently and their voices, clear and rich, match with each other, adding the joyful nuance while their acting are very realistic and funny, as the comedy required. The only bothering element is the doubtful attire or costumes in the operette, which looked rather silly and which we are quite unsure whether it really represented the ancient Greek costume or made contemporary as addition to the funny situations. We also enjoy listening to the magnificent and harmonious choir, making the whole performance very grand and superb. Last but not least, the quality of recording is very good and therefore we can enjoy listening to this operete as I find that such fresh comedy and cheerful music are not so many in choices."