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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Périchole - Comic opera in three acts

La Périchole ………………..Elodie Méchain
Piquillo…………………….. Antonio Pereira
Don Andrès de Ribeira…….Paul Médioni
Don Miguel de Panatellas….Sébastien Lemoine
Don Pedro de Hinoyosa……Frédéric Mazzotta
Guadalena/Manuelita………Mylène Mornet
Berginella/Frasquinella…….Cécile Besnard
Mastrilla/Brambilla………. Anne Royer
Narrator………………… Pierre Jourdan
Chorus: Ensemble Vocal Intermezzo and Orchestre Ostinato
Directed by Jean-Pierre Tingaud
Recorded live during public performances at the Théâtre Impérial, Compiègne 3rd and 10th December 2000
MANDALA 5031/32 [2 CDs: c.145.00]

This engaging set has the spontaneity of public performances, hugely enjoyed judging by the applause, particularly when some of the raciest most popular numbers are reprised as encores at the end.

The story is completely daft – dafter even than most Offenbach operas. It is set in Lima Peru where a dictator, Viceroy Don Andrès is anxious to know what his people think of him. He, together with his buffoons Don Miguel de Panatellas and Don Pedro de Hinoyosa don disguises and go out into the streets to find out. In the meantime, La Périchole and Piquillo, two street singers, are finding life difficult with no money and empty stomachs. La Périchole is left dozing on a bench while Piquillo goes off to find food. Don Andrès sees her and immediately falls in lust with her. But to gain her he must arrange for her to be taken to his palace, then married before he can have his wicked way with her (uncooperative husbands are flung into gaol). She writes a letter to Piquillo telling him what has happened and that she will not surrender herself to the tyrant but that her love for Piquillo is constant. Piquillo follows her and, coincidentally is chosen as La Pèrichole’s hapless husband. After the marriage ceremony he is, of course, flung into clink. La Périchole demands lots of jewels to bribe the gaoler who turns out to be a suspicious Don Andrès in disguise testing her fidelity. When he discovers her duplicity he ties the lovers to a stake. Then wonder of wonders (and shades of The Count of Monte Cristo) out pops a prisoner who has, for years, been cutting his way through the prison walls with a penknife. He rescues the pair and they all tie Don Andrès up instead. Outside the lovers are pardoned by everybody and the show ends happily. Well I did say it was daft.

The best known melody is La Périchole’s letter song. Elodie Mechain is a rather matronly sounding Périchole, a deep voice bordering contralto/mezzo-soprano (the casting does not qualify the voices). She is comically expressive in the Act III jewel song and particularly in her other famous number – Tipsy, in which she becomes very much the worse for drink after she is whisked off to the palace before the wedding. Stage sounds, as she lurches about in this number, do her no favours though. [Note: Felicity Lott delivers this number hilariously in her song recital ‘S’amuse’ – Forlane UCD 16760]

Antonio Pereira makes an ardent but bemused Piquillo. His attractive timbre sounds youthful and heroic in contrast to this La Périchole making them sound rather ill-assorted. He shines in the early marching song ‘Le conquérant et la jeune indienne’, in the breathless presto ‘Le muletier et la jeunne personne’ and in his third act Air: ‘On me proposait d’être inflâme.’

Paul Medioni and his sidekicks sung by Sébastien Lemoine and Frédéric Mazzotta are all well cast expressing their inept pomposity with nicely ironic aplomb.

The big set pieces come over very well – the Act I ensemble piece with choir Marche des Palanquins, especially. It sends up all those grand French marches beautifully and is full of exuberance.

Offenbach’s score is full of catchy numbers delivered in many forms: galops, boleros, seguidillas etc.

The set comes with narration delivered with heavy irony by Pierre Jourdan. The libretto is in French only but the notes comprise a translation of the narration so the story can be easily followed even if the nuances of the songs might not always be apparent. There are one or two other minor irritations: there are no notes about the history of the comic opera and the track listing between the acts seems to be at odds with what is printed in the body of the libretto.

On the whole, a delightfully happy and exuberant production of one of the craziest of Offenbach’s comic operas.


Ian Lace


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