After the success of “La Vie Parisienne,” Jacques Offenbach’s
“La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein” was first performed the
following year in 1867, while Offenbach (1819-1880) was at
his height of popularity. However, it wasn’t an immediate
success and Offenbach had to make adjustments and cuts,
to please both the censors, as well as the fickle Parisian public.
What makes this two-hour and 25-minute recording special is
the fact that it apparently is the first recording of the original
version, prior to the aforementioned cuts and alterations,
thus restoring a lot of music that hasn’t been heard before.
The plot of “La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein” concerns a
fictitious Duchy known as Gérolstein around 1720, where
people lead topsy-turvy lives. It is a militaristic satire,
complete with petty amorous adventures and intrigues.
The Paris Exhibition was also held in 1867, and the
performances of this work coincided perfectly with
the royal visitors who came to Paris, including Otto von Bismarck
and Tsar Alexander II. When you consider the impending
Franco-Prussian War a few years later, the timing was
also prescient. Ultimately, this operetta was a huge success,
contributing to Offenbach’s aforementioned fame
during this period.
This recording is outstanding. The singing and spoken
recitatives were performed in a wonderfully idiomatic fashion,
by the largely French cast. I also believe that soprano
Felicity Lott was perfectly cast in the title role, because
while her voice was still beautiful, her sound wasn’t as
youthful, thereby making it ideal for the portrayal of an
aging Duchess. The other singers, including baritone
François le Roux (Le général Boum) and soprano Sandrine Piau
(Wanda) also gave wonderful performances. The small
orchestra of Les Musiciens du Louvre played superbly under
the baton of Marc Minkowski, who led this performance of
great transparency and rhythmic decisiveness, highlighting
Offenbach’s wealth of humor and melodies. The same can
be said for the Choir of Musiciens du Louvre.
The performances and the research involved to bring
this project to fruition make this recording a real
winner, and deserving of an “A.” Incidentally, there is also a
DVD of the production, which is the basis for this recording.
It was performed at the Théâtre musical du Châtelet à Paris,
and also released on the Virgin Classics label.