University of Hartford "H" Magazine - Winter 2019

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Sunday Afternoon at the Opera - Offenbach's Orphée aux Enfers

07/08/2012 1:00 pm
07/08/2012 4:30 pm

Host Keith Brown writes:

Bizet's Carmen is emormously popular, to be sure, but it's a tragedy that is perhaps out of keeping with the expected lightweight, vacation-season lyric theater fare. We get back to comedy this Sunday with the French opera bouffe, also enormously popular, that set the standard for all comic operas/operettas to follow: Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in the Underworld, 1858).

I have broadcast it twice before. The first time was on Sunday, July 8,1984, when I presented it on really old 33 1/3 rpm vinyl discs. The 1948 recording might not even have been in high fidelity sound. Rene Leibowitz conducted the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, with a cast of Parisian singers.

Then on Sunday, July 9,2000 came a sonically excellent 1997 stereo/digital recording made live in performance at the Opéra National de Lyon. Heard in star capacity as Euridice was the eminent soprano Natalie Dessay. EMI originally issued Orphée on two CD's in1998, and made it available to the public again in 2011 in its EMI Classics series.

The Opéra de Lyon production retained Offenbach's original comic conception of the work as first presented to the Parisian public in 1858. There is also Offenbach's 1874 reworking of the score into a less comic fantasy piece. Several popular numbers from the 1874 version were incorporated into the Opéra de Lyon staging.