A superficial view may regard Offenbach's lightweight masterpiece, La belle Hélène, as "merely" an opera buffa. But closer scrutiny of this charming, imaginative firework of intrigue makes one thing clear: the story of the Greek queen who started off the Trojan war is, in this version, a humorous and satirical caricature of the vulgar, decadent Parisian upper classes of Offenbach's own day. Who better suited to produce a modern rendering of this work than the now highly acclaimed Nikolaus Harnoncourt, who also ensured the work's historical accuracy? Employing a small string section, shining, colourful brass and richly varied percussion, the opera still strikes one as exceptionally modern. This impression is also enhanced by the designers of the production, recorded in 1997 at the Zurich Opera House: no less a figure than the fashion designer Jean-Charles de Castelbajac was responsible for the humorously expansive costumes; and the highly subtle stage-set was the work of Paolo Pivas.