Perhaps the last thing the cover illustration of this double CD set would lead one to expect is a recording of Coppelia, since it depicts a dozen modern misses uniformly dressed in blonde wig, red suit, black fish-net tights and red high-heeled shoes. Yet this, it seems, is indeed a photograph of the new production of the ballet that Kent Nagano conducted at the Opera de Lyon during 1993.
The notes also seem to imply that the Opera de Lyon production used an abridged score, and the recording is further described as being in an arrangement by Antonio de Almeida. I can only assume, though, that Almeida's contribution was the preparation of modern performing material, for what we are offered here seems to be just the familiar Coppelia score—and played absolutely complete.
Though the text may be straightforward Delibes, however, the interpretation instantly announces itself as being anything but straightforward. I have listened to various recordings of Coppelia in the past few months in the course of reviewing the veteran Dorati complete version and the Royal Opera House highlights CD, but none has possessed the special stamp of this one. Every phrase, every accent, every nuance seems to be newly considered, without ever losing the feel for the action that is taking place on the stage. Where Bonynge, in his two complete versions, tends to achieve effect by pushing the music to extremes, the overriding impression here is of the rightness and naturalness of Nagano's whole reading.
The rare quality of the performance is evident at once from the way the music lights up at the cantando section in the twelfth bar of the Prelude. Then the quieter second section of the Mazurka trips along in uncommonly delightful fashion, after which the expressively phrased clarinet, oboe and flute solos give way to a performance of the familiar Valse with a uniquely springy bass. The sense of dramatic action that pervades the whole reading is then demonstrated as well as anywhere in the contrasted sections of the scene that follows the Mazurka's main appearance. Later, in Act 2, the Bolero has a rare dash and brio, while the opening March of Act 3 has a similarly compelling onward momentum. The sequence of speciality dances that makes up most of the final Act is delightfully turned, with a quite heavenly viola solo in ''La Paix'' and a thrilling final Galop.
It is sad that the recording is extravagantly spread over two CDs, and that the disc break is pointlessly placed in mid-act. In terms of music to the pound, this version competes with Bonynge's more recent version for offering the poorest value in the catalogue. For sheer enjoyment, though, I would definitely place it at the top of the pile. I would urge anyone who loves this music to make a point of hearing Nagano's outstanding reading.'