Here we present the first complete CD recording with William S. Gilberts English translation of Jacques Offenbachs 1869 comic masterpiece. Les Brigands achieved resounding success just as the Second Empire came to an end. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy supplied Offenbach with a cheerfully amoral libretto that presents theft as a basic principle of society, not an aberration. The forces of law and order are represented by the bumbling carabinieri, who always arrive too late to capture the thieves. The carabinieris exaggerated attire delighted the Parisian audience during the premiere at the Varietes on December 10, 1869. Only the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in the following months dampened the festivities. W.S. Gilberts 1871 English adaptation for Les Brigands premiered on the London stage in 1889, starring Lillian Russell in the role of Fiorella. In his typical curmudgeonly fashion, Gilbert disparaged his own work and attempted to prevent use in London of his English version happily to no avail. His arch lyrics give the Offenbach work a uniquely hilarious quality, delightful to an operetta audience happy to accept a rough-and-tumble pirate band speaking impeccable, drawing room English while describing dastardly deeds to gavottes and musical romps in three-quarter time.
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And, as nearly always with the Ohio Light Opera, this release does not have a competitor - if you want to hear this operetta in English then this is all there is!
What lets this CD set down in my opinion - and this goes to a lesser or greater extent to all this company's recordings, at the least the three I have purchased so far, is the quality of the sound. It is recorded "live" (i.e. presumably at an actual performance - although there is little or no evidence of an audience) - I wish it had been done in a proper studio instead!
Sound levels are generally very low (although they fluctuate a fair bit) and I actually had to make a "boosted" copy onto MD when I wanted to play some tracks on our local community radio station - just to get enough volume so our equipment at the station would broadcast it at a listenable level. Clarity is poor (the fault of the sound engineers rather than the performers, in the main) and it is very fortunate indeed that the set includes a full libretto. Otherwise some of Gilbert's best lines would be lost.
Both the "lost stars" in my assessment are for sound quantity and quality, anyway.
This production, however, does not do justice to the piece. There is a lovely recording of the French-language original conducted by John Eliot Gardiner that puts this one in the shade musically. The only major plusses in this production are the excellent chorus, the alert conducting of J. Lynn Thompson and, of course, the Gilbert translation. Otherwise, it's a downright provincial effort with soloists that are not ready for prime time and an orchestra that sounds like a middling college group (and indeed they MAY be, since the Ohio Light Opera Company is resident at Wooster College in Ohio). The libretto is printed in full so one can read Gilbert's hilarious words, many of which are indistinct on the recording.
This recording apparently was made after the operetta was staged in Wooster, and I suspect it was much more effective in the theater, which lead to a suggestion: why doesn't OLO make DVDs of their productions?