The 1977 recording we have here by conductor Jean-Baptiste Mari and the Orchestra of the Paris National Opera Theater is among the best, maybe the absolute best, ever made of it. Mari's interpretation is elegant and refined, but it in no way diminishes the robust energy of the work. Indeed, he enhances the long, graceful curves of the music, while providing all the beauty, mystery, and excitement it requires.
But here's the thing: When this complete recording of the score appeared on the scene in the late Seventies, I had a hard time finding it. Instead, what I eventually found was a two-disc set of lengthy excerpts from Mari's recording of Coppelia and his recording of Delibes's Sylvia, one disc devoted to each ballet. This wasn't such a bad thing, since there is much in the complete scores of both works that is redundant, and like Adam's Giselle, a little pruning helps. In fact, I doubt that anyone but a Delibes fanatic could tell what was deleted in the highlights discs. Nevertheless, it is nice now to have Coppelia so readily available in its unedited form.
Accompanying Coppelia is the ballet Don Quixote by one of Delibes's contemporaries, Ludwig Minkus (1827-1890). It's a more-conventional piece of music, here presented in highlights performed by John Lanchbery (who also adapted this particular arrangement) and the Elizabethan Trust Melbourne Orchestra in a 1972 recording. While it is still an enjoyable, melodic work, it hasn't nearly the endless stream of great tunes we find in Coppelia; so it comes as something of a filler rather than a competitor to the Delibes piece.
Although EMI recorded this music in the Seventies, they remastered the present set in 2009. Compared to their earlier mastering of Coppelia, this new one is marginally smoother and cleaner, with a touch less edge to the high end. In either case, the sound is quite fine, with a pleasant ambient bloom, a good degree of orchestral depth, and plenty of dynamic range. Perhaps the engineers could have picked up a bit more of the deep bass response, but it hardly matters in music so enchanting as this.
John J. Puccio