For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

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lennygoran
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For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by lennygoran » Fri May 10, 2019 5:48 am

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For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look



By Rebecca Schmid

May 9, 2019

BERLIN — The composer Jacques Offenbach captured the streets of mid-19th-century Paris like no other. But while he produced about 130 scores for the stage, his profile is often reduced to a spirited cancan or a dreamy barcarole.

The bicentenary of his birth this year has prompted a closer look, with rarely performed operas staged across Europe over the past two seasons. Next month, the German city of Cologne — where Offenbach was born on June 20, 1819 — will mount a new production of “La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein” (The Grand Duchess of Gérolstein), while Garsington Opera presents the British stage premiere of “Fantasio.”

In August, Barrie Kosky makes his directorial debut at the Salzburg Festival with “Orphée aux Enfers” (Orpheus in the Underworld). Meanwhile, Robert Carsen’s 2000 staging of “Les Contes d’Hoffmann” (The Tales of Hoffmann) remains in repertory at the Opéra Bastille, with a revival coming up in January and February of next year.

“Hoffmann,” which Offenbach left incomplete upon his death in 1880, represents a different side of the composer than his comic operas, which constitute the largest part of his oeuvre. The work was created in the aftermath of the 1870-71 French-Prussian War, when he had been forced into exile because of his German heritage. When Offenbach returned to Paris, his home since age 14, the fashion had tilted toward more sentimental plotlines.

The “opera fantastique” about three episodes in the love life of the drunken poet E.T.A. Hoffmann is sometimes understood as representing the suffering of the Romantic artist. Mr. Carsen’s production recreates various locations within both the Opéra Bastille and Palais Garnier, from the orchestra pit that emerges as a backdrop for the mad Dr. Miracle at the end of the second act to the auditorium seats that move like waves of water during the third act’s barcarole “Belle nuit, ô nuit d’amour.”

“The work can be dramatic, ironic, sardonic,” Mr. Carsen said between rehearsals for Detlev Glanert’s “Oceane” at the Deutsche Oper Berlin, which had its world premiere on April 28. “It was important to try to do justice to all those theatrical qualities.”

The opera retains a touch of mystery, especially because there is no definitive version of the score. The musicologist Jean-Christophe Keck in 1993 discovered the finale of the fourth act, leading to a new edition created with Michael Kaye that provided the basis, albeit loosely, for new productions from the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, Spain, to the Komische Oper Berlin. The Paris Opera, meanwhile, has stuck to a mix of older, more familiar editions so that singers can easily jump in if a soloist is indisposed, Mr. Carsen explained.

Offenbach was above all a man of the theater, conducting his own works and collaborating closely with his librettists (he also opened his own company, the Bouffes-Parisiens, in 1855). The Jewish-German composer paid homage to Parisian society while subverting bourgeois values, combining the ironic distance of an outsider with an intuitive feel for the culture’s pleasure-driven ways.

“La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein,” in which war is declared to brighten the spirits of a fictional grand duchy’s ruler, lampooned European politics but also won the admiration of Otto von Bismarck upon its 1867 premiere. As Laurence Senelick documents in his recent book “Jacques Offenbach and the Making of Modern Culture,” the future chancellor of the German Empire saw in the opera an affirmation of the need to annex Germany’s minor states under the aegis of Prussia.

“Here is a very good example of Offenbach not being on anybody’s side,” Mr. Senelick said by phone from Medford, Mass., “but rather casting a rather jaded eye at the way that politicians and diplomats attempt to organize everybody’s life.”

The comic opera at the same time makes a kind of feminist statement. The duchess rules over the land with the sword of her father (which Mr. Senelick considers a phallic symbol) and promotes the soldier, Fritz, to general in the interest of seducing him.


Mr. Senelick said that Offenbach’s main heroines, from the duchess to the title character of “La Périchole,” based on the story of a real-life courtesan, “are all women who talk about their libidos and find ways of satisfying them.”

The conductor François-Xavier Roth, who presides over the new production next month as general music director of the city of Cologne, also sees contemporary relevance in “La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein.” “The main character is a woman who plays with men,” he said by phone from London. “It is not the men who play with her. Offenbach reveals himself to be a great progressive and visionary.”

Mr. Roth noted the timeless qualities of both Offenbach’s theatrical topics and the scores themselves. “One has the impression that the music was written yesterday,” he said. “It is immediately stirring. This is a composer who understood all the subtleties of life in society at the time, notably in Paris.”

The production at Opera Cologne will present sung numbers in the original French while translating spoken dialogue into German so that people have a chance to follow the story, Mr. Roth said, adding that the solution “pays homage to both of Offenbach’s countries.” He also noted that capturing the work’s humor required “perhaps more technicality and precision than for a drama.”

Offenbach was banned by the Nazis as a Jewish-born composer and disappeared from repertoire in the 1930s. But he quickly made a comeback in postwar Germany — led by the Komische Oper, in what was then East Berlin — and his work continues to be performed regularly throughout the country.

His comic operas, meanwhile, do not have a strong tradition of translation for the English-speaking world. “It is the same reason why Gilbert and Sullivan are not done much outside of English,” Mr. Senelick said. “You need a libretto that works. Too many of the translations go overboard with vaudeville jokes and coarse wit rather than capture the ‘esprit’ of the original.”

If Offenbach is being reinstated by scholarship as not only a composer of light theater but also as one of the most important figures in 19th-century music, his legacy will be done justice only if theaters around the world continue to program lesser-known works. They include the romantic opera “Les Fées du Rhin” (The Rhine Nixies, recorded in 2003 by the Orchestre National de Montpellier in France) or the political satire “Le Roi Carotte” (King Carrot, presented in Lyon, France, four seasons ago). “That is after all where opera lives,” Mr. Senelick said.




https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/09/arts ... nbach.html

John F
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Re: For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by John F » Fri May 10, 2019 6:27 am

I've had the René Leibowitz recording of “La Grande-Duchesse de Gérolstein” for decades and actually seen it - twice: in Stuttgart, and here in New York with Stephanie Blythe in the title role. Not so rarely performed, then - no more than Offenbach's famous ones, "La belle Helene" and "Orphée aux Enfers," which we don't often get the chance to see here in the U.S. The Duchess has never struck me as very funny, as most of Offenbach's operettas certainly are, nor as at all serious either. Maybe I just don't get it.

What I do get is Offenbach's "chinoiserie"in one act, "Ba-Ta-Clan." If that sounds familiar, "Ba-Ta-Clan" was once so popular that the Parisians named a music hall for it. Four Chinese are plotting revolution, in a fake Chinese language, until they discover that they're really all French. Here's the anthem of Ba-Ta-Clan, in which the singers imitate the instruments of the band. It begins at 30:56.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK81rn25Zd4

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ba-ta-clan
Last edited by John F on Fri May 10, 2019 6:48 am, edited 2 times in total.
John Francis

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Re: For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by Ricordanza » Fri May 10, 2019 6:31 am

There's a tune by this composer that we've all heard (those of us in the United States, anyway), but few are aware that Offenbach is the composer. It's the Marine Hymn ("From the halls of Montezuma..."). Offenbach's composition was "The Song of the Soldiers of the Sea." Here's a wild piano transcription by Jakob Gimpel, performed by that keyboard magician, Marc-Andre Hamelin:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IpERLUaf3Mc

lennygoran
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Re: For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by lennygoran » Fri May 10, 2019 7:32 am

John F wrote:
Fri May 10, 2019 6:27 am
>here in New York with Stephanie Blythe in the title role.<
We saw her do it also-loved it! Regards, Len

https://www.nytimes.com/1999/06/28/arts ... right.html

maestrob
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Re: For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by maestrob » Fri May 10, 2019 12:17 pm

Fascinating! Thanks, Len!

My first date with Teresa was at an FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology for non-New Yorkers) production of Gerolstein in April 1980, a NY premiere, starring Teresa's voice teacher at the time in the title role. It was great fun: we loved the piece!

lennygoran
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Re: For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by lennygoran » Fri May 10, 2019 1:43 pm

maestrob wrote:
Fri May 10, 2019 12:17 pm
My first date with Teresa was at an FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology for non-New Yorkers) production of Gerolstein in April 1980, a NY premiere, starring Teresa's voice teacher at the time in the title role. It was great fun: we loved the piece!
Brian I didn't even know FIT did operas-Sue knows of this place since she and some friends are very interested in fashions, clothing, sewing, etc--all this much to my chagrin! Regards, Len [fleeing]

maestrob
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Re: For His 200th Birthday, a Composer Gets a Closer Look

Post by maestrob » Fri May 10, 2019 1:53 pm

lennygoran wrote:
Fri May 10, 2019 1:43 pm
maestrob wrote:
Fri May 10, 2019 12:17 pm
My first date with Teresa was at an FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology for non-New Yorkers) production of Gerolstein in April 1980, a NY premiere, starring Teresa's voice teacher at the time in the title role. It was great fun: we loved the piece!
Brian I didn't even know FIT did operas-Sue knows of this place since she and some friends are very interested in fashions, clothing, sewing, etc--all this much to my chagrin! Regards, Len [fleeing]
Actually, Len, I'm not sure now that it was sponsored by FIT or if it was an outside group renting the auditorium. At any rate, seeing the production gave me new respect for Offenbach's work.

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