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.