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La Périchole. Opéra bouffe in 3 acts. Highlights
La Périchole, Régine Crespin (sop); Piquillo, Alain Vanzo (ten); Don Andrès de Ribiera, Jules Bastin (b. bar); guadelena, Rebecca Roberts, (sop); Berginella, Eva Sourova, (sop); Mastrilla, geneviève Baudoz 9mez)
Chorus of l’Opera du Rhin. Orchestre Philharmonique de Strasbourg. Cond. Alain Lombard
Recorded in the Palais des Fêtes, Strasbourg. February 1976
WARNER APEX 2564 61500-2 [66.57]

As one successful work followed another, Offenbach was dubbed by Rossini as ‘The Mozart of the Champs Elysées’. Born Jacob Eberst, in Cologne, the son of a jobbing Jewish fiddler cum music teacher, Offenbach revealed such early talent that the father made many sacrifices to send his son to study in Paris. Here he scraped a living as a jobbing cellist composing in his spare time. At the time of the 1855 World Exhibition in Paris, frustrated by inability to get his compositions performed, he opened the miniscule Théâtre des Bouffes Parisiens. Visitors to The Exhibition flocked to hear his tuneful operettas, which fitted the mood of the country at that time like a glove. However, this frivolous time in France finished abruptly with the Franco-Prussian war, the siege of Paris, the fall of the Emperor Napoleon 3rd, and the collapse of the Second Empire.

La Périchole, based on a Mérimée drama of 1829. It was premiered in 1868 and tells the story of La Périchole a gypsy street singer and her lover Piquillo. They travel to Peru where Don Andrès the local Viceroy likes to roam the streets incognito. Charmed by La Périchole he takes her onto his staff on condition she takes a husband of convenience. The Viceroy’s equerry chooses non other than Piquillo who, desperate about the disappearance of his lover, turns up at the wedding blind drunk not realising who he is to marry. Piquillo ends up in gaol and when Périchole tries, by subterfuge, to rescue him, she ends up there to. The lovers’ escape and when Périchole sings the Viceroy the Ballad of Augustus’s Clemency obtains his pardon.

Whilst the German branches of various recording companies have done generous justice to the fund of national operettas, the lighter works of French composers, particularly Offenbach, have done less well on record. It is suggested that this neglect has been due to the lack of French singers with the vital facility for rapid patter and phrasing in the language and which is essential in such works. This recording refutes that argument with two native French singers in the lead roles and a strong supporting Francophone cast. Typical is the Don Andrès of the Belgian Jules Bastin. Of French speaking Walloon background he fines down his big voice and gives a well characterised and rounded performance. Bastin might not quite match the old master Gabriel Bacquier on the EMI version conducted by Plasson. However, compare the Spaniards Berganza and Carreras on that version with Régine Crespin and Alain Vanzo here and there I just no match. The native French speakers use the language and its nuances to play off the words all the time. Add the scintillating conducting and clear recording and it makes for an outstanding performance. Régine Crespin as Périchole is full toned and superbly expressive in her tipsy song (tr. 6) and preceding O mon cher amant (tr. 5) and characterises superbly throughout. Alain Vanzo has graced recordings on several labels. His was, perhaps, the only true French tenor of his generation although the Spanish speaking Canarian Alfredo Krauss could compete idiomatically in the repertoire. Vanzo’s voice combines the ideal mixture of heady tone, unobtrusive nasality and tang. Given his musicality and ability to act with his voice then the combination is perfect (trs. 8, 11 and 15). When Crespin and Vanzo sing together (trs. 19-20) one can only wonder why so few of Offenbach’s tuneful creations are found on record. Whilst this duo are the core of this recording there are also vital idiomatic contributions from the rest of the cast in the many concerted numbers. Equally important to is the vibrant chorus and, as I have indicated, the sheer fizz wrought to this tuneful work by the conductor.

The complete work lasts around 100 minutes. This highlights represents a generous selection of the music and the work as a whole. It is 67 minutes of unalloyed joy. I strongly recommend it. If the highlights tempt you to go out and buy the complete work with these artists so much the better. You will doubtless enjoy that to and perhaps go on to try some of Offenbach’s other works that have made it on to disc. The accompanying booklet has a brief synopsis, regrettably not track related, in English, French and German as well as a track listing and brief description of the characters.

Robert J Farr

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