“Exotic Dances from the Opera” – Minnesota Orchestra/ Eiji Oue – [TrackList follows] Reference Recordings 200gr audiophile vinyl RM-1505 (1996/2012) *****:
This is the first vinyl release of an analog tape recording made in 1996 at Minneopolis’ Orchestra Hall by Reference Recordings’ engineer Keith O. Johnson. It was half-speed mastered and pressed at one of the 17 vinyl pressing plants in the U.S. (QRP in Salina, KS) on the maximum thickness audiophile vinyl disc of 200 grams. It is in a double-fold LP album to allow plenty of room for the notes, but the single LP is only in the second slot.
Dance has long played a major part in operas, though it has lately fallen out of favor. Operagoers in the past expected every opera to have a ballet in it. This is an excellent idea for an album: grouping six ballets from 19th Century operas—some very well-known and others obscure. They are all performed with sensitive phrasing and generally great pizazz by the Minnesota Orchestra and maestro Oue. In order to fit on the limited time per side of good-sounding LPs (around 24 minutes), two additional selections on the CD version of this album had to be jetisoned: works of Dvorak and Rubinstein.
There are two or three paragraphs on each of the ballets in the album notes, as well as details on maestro Oue and the orchestra. Four of the selections are extremely well-known. The “Hopak” comes from Tchaikovsky’s opera Mazeppa, and offers a colorful bit of dancing in the midst of a rather gloomy opera. It is strongly based on a Ukrainian folk dance and danced by a group of performers. The really unusual ballet here is the suite of dances from Henri Rabaud’s Marouf, Cobbler of Cairo. He wrote a dozen operas, and this one was the most successful. The music has a colorful Arabian Nights mood about it, but would probably not be mistaken for Rimsky-Korsakov. There’s a lot of tambourine shaking, and parts of the quarter-hour score (by far the longest on the album) may remind one of scores to early films—though there weren’t many of those in 1914 when this opera was premiered.
The sonics are rich and full, with the added “air” around the orchestra’s sections as heard with the best vinyl recordings.
Rimsky-Korsakov, Nikolai : Snow Maiden Suite – Dance of the Tumblers
Strauss, Richard : Salome, Op. 54 – Dance of the seven veils
Mussorgsky, Modest : Khovanshchina – Dance of the Persian Slaves
Tchaikovsky, Peter Ilyich : Mazeppa – Cossack Dance
Rabaud, Henri : Mârouf, savetier du Caire – Dance(s)
Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921) : Samson et Dalila, Op. 47 – Bacchanale
This is a delightful holiday collection.