OPERA NEWS - La Périchole
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La Périchole

Garsington Festival

In Review Garsington Perichole hdl 912
Repertoire departure: La Périchole at Garsington, with Dolton and O’Connell
© Johan Persson 2012

La Périchole, Offenbach’s 1868 opéra bouffe (expanded from two acts to three in its 1874 version), is an infrequent visitor to opera-house programs — though the Met played a long-running edition (in English translation) between 1956 and 1971. Yet La Périchole possesses a peach of a score, full of ingenuity and wit, its unusual melodic turns of phrase and Latin–American rhythms spicing up the composer’s already vivacious musical language. 

The opera’s basic story-line concerns a pair of street-singers in eighteenth-century Lima, who are too poor to marry; so she — La Périchole — takes up an unlikely offer from the Spanish Viceroy to become a lady-in-waiting, not knowing that more than the standard duties seem to be understood by the Viceroy’s court. Her boyfriend, Piquillo, meanwhile is coerced into marrying (for appearance’s sake and a fee) the unknown woman who has taken up this lady-in-waiting position, little suspecting her real identity as his missing beloved. On the point of presenting her to the Viceroy, Piquillo recognizes and denounces Périchole, only to be sent immediately to a prison for “uncooperative husbands.” All, naturally, ends happily, even if there is enough potential heartbreak on the way, not to mention an underlying theme of the respective power of the rich and the poor, to ensure an evening in which sentiment generously overlays the satire.

Offenbach represented a new repertoire departure for the Garsington Festival, now based at Wormsley in Buckinghamshire. The company offered an English-language production (June 18), staged and translated by Jeremy Sams, a man of protean musical and theatrical talent. Francis O’Connor’s clever, colorful set opened up from its original comic-opera Peruvian street-scene to reveal a well-equipped Viceroy’s throne-room. A prison cell, entered by a staircase and with a handy underground tunnel beneath, subsequently appeared in front.

Making her U.K. opera debut as La Périchole was the Irish, Juilliard-trained mezzo Naomi O’Connell, her streetwise manner and gift for vivid dialogue enhancing a performance that was notable for warmth, clarity and cleanness. As her less proactive boyfriend, Piquillo, tenor Robert Murray matched her in vocal style and grace, while his shy, fumbling manner was just as appealing — in its very different way — as hers. Both of them seized their vocal and dramatic opportunities fully throughout the show.

Manic in his malign energy was Geoffrey Dolton — an expert physical performer, who always concentrates audience attention on his exploits — as the highly dubious Viceroy, ably supported on the one hand by tenor Mark Wilde, as Panatellas, First Lord of the Bedchamber, and on the other by experienced operetta performer Simon Butteriss, as Don Pedro, Governor of Lima. Old hands Jennifer Rhys-Davies, Diana Montague and Fiona Kimm capered gamely as the Three Cousins. They and the rest of the company entered into all aspects of the show, including Tim Jackson’s sometimes complex choreography, with wholehearted enthusiasm. 

Conductor David Parry, who has already demonstrated his Offenbachian credentials on releases on the Opera Rara label, showed what a dainty meal the score comprises, and the result tripped lightly and fantastically over the footlights. It was the hit of the Garsington season, and one would be surprised if the French operetta master were not back at this address before too long. spacer


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