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Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Adolphe Adam - Giselle (Richard Bonynge)


Composer: Adolphe Adam

  • (01-21) Giselle - Act I
  • (01-13) Giselle - Act II

Orchestra of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden
Richard Bonynge, conductor
Date: 1986
Label: Decca



One might wonder why Decca and Bonynge should wish to re-record Giselle when already they have to their credit the only truly complete version of the ballet. Certainly Bonynge has not come up with any new ideas as to what represents a definitive Giselle text. The text for this new recording appears to be identical with that used almost two decades ago for the previous Decca recording, with Adam's complete original score complemented by the traditional interpolations attributed to Burgmuller and Minkus.

Evidently Bonynge's wish to have another go at this key work of the ballet repertoire lies in matters of performance and interpretation. For all their overall enthusiasm MM and the late RF both made mention in their reviews of the previous version, on its original appearance and reissue, of the limitations of the woodwind and brass and suggested that a little more rehearsal time might have brought benefits. Now the musicians of the Royal Opera House bring both a confidence of attack and a refinement that are not quite achieved by the Monte-Carlo players. Moreover, that same extra confidence of attack is displayed by Bonynge himself. Each of the discs of this recent issue is between one and a half and two minutes longer than the older, but within that overall expansion the dramatic moments are more vigorously attacked and the slower ones more lovingly caressed—always to considerable effect. Add a quality of recorded sound that, for all the excellence of the earlier version, is undoubtedly warmer and more spacious, and I have no hesitation in acknowledging the superiority of this new version over the old.

In one respect only does this new version fail to represent an improvement, and that is in the matter of documentation, which I have found a frequent source of disappointment with Decca CDs. The earlier version was welcomed originally for the articles in its accompanying booklet; but here we have merely a repeat of the excellent but briefer notes accompanying the subsequent reissue. A detailed synopsis, indicating track numbers, is surely the least one might expect. The list of numbers identifies the interpolated Burgmuller pas de deux and the Act 2 variation but fails to do so for the interpolated variation for Giselle in Act 1. For those interested, it is the pas seul at track number 9, immediately preceding the Burgmuller pas de deux.

Whether those already possessing the previous Bonynge issue will feel it worth investing in this new release, I don't know. There will also be those who will find a sufficient helping of the ballet in the traditional abridgement available from the VPO and Karajan (Decca Ovation 417 738-2DM). I have no doubt, though, that this now represents the first-choice version of Adam's complete score.

-- Andrew Lamb, Gramophone

More reviews:


Adolphe Adam (24 July 1803 – 3 May 1856) was a French composer and music critic. A prolific composer of operas and ballets, he is best known today for his ballets Giselle (1841). Adam also wrote several other ballets and 39 operas. Like many other French composers, he made a living largely by playing the organ. From 1849 to his death in Paris, he taught composition at the Paris Conservatoire. He was a noted teacher, who taught Delibes and other influential composers.


Richard Bonynge (born 29 September 1930 in Epping, Sydney) is an Australian conductor and pianist. He studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and Royal College of Music in London. Bonynge's debut as an opera conductor took place in 1963 in Vancouver. and he made his Metropolitan Opera debut in 1966. He is the widower of Australian dramatic coloratura soprano Dame Joan Sutherland. Bonynge conducted virtually all of Sutherland's operatic performances from 1962 until her retirement in 1990.


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