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Jacques OFFENBACH (1819-1880)
La Périchole, Opéra Bouffe in three acts (1868, rev. 1874, mixed version assembled by Marc Minkowski)
French libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy based on one-act play Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement (1829) by Prosper Mérimée
Soloists: Aude Extrémo, Stanislas de Barbeyrac, Alexandre Duhamel, Éric Huchet, Marc Mauillon, Enguerrand de Hys, François Pardailhé, Olivia Doray, Julie Pasturaud, Mélodie Ruvio, Adriana Bignagni Lesca, Jean Sclavis
Chœur de L’Opéra National de Bordeaux, Alphonse Cemin (chorus master), Les Musiciens du Louvre / Marc Minkowski
rec. live, 14/16 October 2018, Auditorium de l’Opéra de Bordeaux, France
Full French libretto with English translation provided in the book. Cast and track listing, and book contents – at the end of review.
Opéra français series of Bru Zane, Volume 21
BRU ZANE BZ1036 [51:40 + 51:11]

Bru Zane continues its French Opera series with Offenbach’s La Périchole, an opéra bouffe in three acts. This is a timely release: we have the 200th anniversary year of the birth of this underrated French/German composer. The Bru Zane series has reached volume 21, a limited edition of 4000.

Offenbach enjoyed great success in 1867; he had productions showing at four Parisian theatres the year before completing La Périchole. Yet in May 1868 the tide was turning. Le château à Toto was unsuccessful, and a revival of Le pont des soupirs failed to inspire. Later in the year came the premières of opéra bouffes L'île de Tulipatan and La Périchole, neither of which kept a hold on the repertory. In 1874, for the revival of La Périchole, Offenbach revised the score considerably: three acts instead the original two acts. It was in this revised form that La Périchole has found favour with audiences.

In La Périchole there are the usual antics so typical of an opéra bouffe, including disguise, mix-ups, mistaken identity and comic twists. La Périchole and her lover Piquillo are a pair of Peruvian street singers who cannot afford a marriage license. Don Andrès de Ribeira, a lecherous Viceroy of Peru, wants La Périchole as his mistress, and makes her his lady-in-waiting. Piquillo, also employed in the Viceroy’s household, marries the veiled La Périchole without knowing it is she. Piquillo gets thrown into prison but the end results in an unexpected pardon from the Viceroy; the lovers are reunited.

Music director Marc Minkowski has conducted both versions of La Périchole. For the Opéra National de Bordeaux production recorded here, he has assembled a mixed version based on the original 1868 score and parts of the 1874 revision. This release was recorded at live performances of stage director Romain Gilbert’s production. Minkowski conducted Les Musiciens du Louvre who are thirty-six strong and use period instruments. Although it surely applies to all audio recordings of live performances to a lesser or greater degree, having seen a brief clip of the show I think the dramatic impact of La Périchole is especially diminished by not seeing the actual performance. Nevertheless, there is still much pleasure to be gained from this recording. The three principal characters – La Périchole, Piquillo and Don Andrès – are very well cast, with French-language singers.

Tenor Stanislas de Barbeyrac throws himself wholeheartedly into the role of Piquillo. A highlight is the brief Rondo de bravoure - Écoute, ô roi, je te présente, where Piquillo presents La Périchole to Don Andrès. This splendid example of Barbeyrac’s theatricalit, demonstrates his vocal clarity and projection, his high notes achieved comfortably. As femme fatale La Périchole, the rich-toned mezzo-soprano of Aude Extrémo projects well, with a first-class level of expression – although her voice does not always have the smoothest delivery. La Périchole’s renowned ‘Tipsyarietta - Ah! quel dîner je viens de faire!’ is a success. I wish I could have seen it. Best of all is her ‘Letterarioso to Piquillo - Ô mon cher amant, je te jur. The mezzo tenderly reflects how it would be better to separate owing to their poverty and list of misfortunes. It is hard to forget the distinction of Régine Crespin’s rendition of the ‘Letterarioso on her 1971 release ‘Prima Donna in Paris’ on Decca.

Alexandre Duhamel as Viceroy Don Andrès gives a creditable performance although it is more of an acting role. Note the ‘Incognito’ song with chorus Sans en rien souffler à personne where Viceroy goes out on the town in disguise. Duhamel is in secure voice, with impressive diction and strong expression. Of the hit numbers, one notes La Périchole and Piquillo’s Le conquérant dit à la jeune Indienne, a foot-tapping ballad with its extremely catchy tune. For the same reasons, I also relish the couple’s rendition of the celebrated Séguedille - Vous a-t-on dit souvent. Minkowski favours swift speeds. He draws a strong and expressive performance from Les Musiciens du Louvre. On occasions, within all the spirited playing there is some slight untidness but nothing too distracting. The Chœur de L’Opéra National de Bordeaux is hard to fault. They give a strong performance throughout under chorus master Alphonse Cemin.

The sound has clarity, and is well balanced. Not surprisingly, there is some miscellaneous stage noise, and applause after some arias and at the end of each act, but it is not a problem. It serves to add to the live atmosphere.

As we have come to expect from this Bru Zane French Opera series, there is a 168-page hardback book with a full French libretto and an English translation. Four informative and well written essays are also included, as is a synopsis and full cast and track listing. My only grumble is wanting the track listing to contain the page number of its place in the libretto.

There are several studio recordings of La Périchole in the catalogue. My first choice remains the 1977 Strasbourg recording on Erato, featuring Régine Crespin, Alain Vanzo and Jules Bastin, conducted by Alain Lombard. Originally, I had the Erato release on vinyl. It is worth knowing that the performance has no spoken dialogue. I find this Minkowski recording of La Périchole tremendously entertaining from start to finish, and I wish I had been in the Bordeaux audience. A fitting tribute in Offenbach’s 200th anniversary year.

Michael Cookson
Cast details
Aude Extrémo (mezzo-soprano) – La Périchole, street singer
Stanislas de Barbeyrac (tenor) – Piquillo, her lover
Alexandre Duhamel (baritone) – Don Andrès de Ribeira, Viceroy of Peru
Éric Huchet (tenor) – Don Miguel de Panatellas, first gentleman of the bedchamber
Marc Mauillon (tenor / baritone) – Don Pedro de Hinoyosa, Mayor of Lima
Enguerrand de Hys – Premier Notaire / Le Marquis,
François Pardailhé – Second Notaire,
Olivia Doray – Guadalena, first cousin / Manuelita, first lady in waiting
Julie Pasturaud – Berginella, second cousin / Frasquinella, second lady in waiting
Mélodie Ruvio – Mastrilla, third cousin / Ninetta, third lady in waiting
Adriana Bignagni Lesca – Brambilla, fourth lady in waiting
Jean Sclavis – A prisoner

CD / Book contents (in French and English)

Alexandre Dratwicki - ‘The Péricholes of Offenbach and Marc Minkowski’s version’
Gérard Condé - ‘La Périchole, step by step’
Waldemar Kamer - ‘The Spanish amours of the Second Empire’
Arnold Mortier - ‘How Offenbach rehearses’


Libretto - French and English

Detailed track listing

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