By Jacques Offenbach
Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy
New York City Opera
New York City Center
Conductor, Emmanuel Plasson
Director, Christopher Alden
Choreographer, Seán Curran
Sets, Paul Steinberg
Costumes, Gabriel Berry
Lighting, Aaron Black
Supertitles, Kelley Rourke
Chorus Master, Bruce Stasyna
Guadalena/Manuelita, Lauren Worsham (Soprano)
Berginella/Frasquinella, Naomi O’Connell (Mezzo-soprano)
Mastrilla/Brambilla, Carin Gilfry (Mezzo-soprano)
Don Pedro de Hinoyosa, Joshua Jeremiah (Baritone)
Comte Miguel de Panatellas, Richard Troxell (Tenor)
Don Andrès de Ribeira (Viceroy), Kevin Burdette (Bass)
Piquillo, Philippe Talbot (Tenor)
La Périchole, Marie Lenormand (Mezzo-soprano)
Notaries, Rider R. Foster, Joseph Demarest
Ninetta, Bridget Hogan
Le Marquis de Tarapote, David Kelleher-Flight
The Old Prisoner, Philip Littell
Press, Blake Zidell & Associates
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 23, 2013
City Opera’s production of Offenbach’s La Périchole is one of the most confusing productions of theater or opera I’ve seen. I will say it is entertaining, if you like vaudevillian spoken operetta, but this is not elegant French farce. Rather, the humor is overly bawdy and coarse, with such antics as male characters poking each other with large barbecue tongs, one character imprisoned on a chair, told to watch reality television of his girlfriend abused by an inebriated lout, and a lead character prancing about in brief underwear. This Christopher Alden production is not one I would recommend to opera buffs, nor one I’d ever revisit. Further, at least two audience members nearby dashed out early, and two were mumbling in frustration.
On the upside, New York City Center is an ideal venue for this small opera company, with such a large following. The acoustics, ambiance, intimacy, lighting technology, and sight lines are superb. Since City Opera has only two Manhattan productions/year, it seems, it was disappointing that this one had so little music. Much of the dialogue is spoken, rapidly, and, although I’m fairly strong in French language, one had to follow the supertitles, while burlesquean interpersonal acrobatics ensued. The plot is complex, with several characters in multiple spotlights. The title character, La Périchole (Marie Lenormand), and her boyfriend, Pequillo (Philippe Talbot), street singers, along with the entire cast, are apparently in Lima, Peru, although everyone speaks French. The central character is the Viceroy, Don Andrès, the man who prances in underwear, bathing suits, and a Batman-like costume, to wander anonymously about his city, listening to local gossip, mainly about himself. The Viceroy also has a bountiful array of married mistresses, and he chooses La Périchole for his newest pleasure, or abuse, depending on the observer.
The operetta opens with the cast barbecuing hot dogs on grills (thus the presence of the tongs), and each performer wears a pointed party hat. Other scenes have women in bare black dresses, cigarettes, and boffo buffoonery. In the party scene, there are colorful piñatas hanging from the rafters, and these piñatas later appear in crates, with characters hiding within. A bartender, who gives out faux cocktails one by one as characters form endless lines, later appears as a fool who dug his way through Lima with a tiny knife. Paul Steinberg’s sets and Gabriel Berry’s costumes, for me, were a highpoint of this production. Brightly painted mosaics of yellow and black were the wall and stage floor décor, and those giant piñatas drew me in, just in time for Cinco de Mayo. When singing and orchestrations did randomly occur, the music was embracing.
Ms. Lenormand is an artist to watch, as is Mr. Talbot. Not only are they both persuasive vocally, but their outsized theatrical talent, with facial and body gestures, drove this performance. Kevin Burdette, as the Viceroy, cannot be faulted for the annoying overabundance of cartoonish cavorting he’s required to muster, but his role lost comedic import quite soon. However, he’s an astounding vocalist, and I’d like to see him in a more relaxed opera. Joshua Jeremiah and Richard Troxell, as the Lima Mayor and an aide to the Viceroy, seemed lost in the mayhem. Similarly, the three ladies who own the town’s bar, played by Lauren Worsham, Naomi O’Connell, and Carin Gilfry (who also double their roles with more confusion), are each filled with dramatic and vocal talent, all elusive in this muddled melee.
Seán Curran’s choreography was delightful, but hardly visible in the crowd. Emmanuel Plasson conducted the elusive music with persuasion and pizzazz, and City Orchestra rose to the occasion. Yet, so much time passed with little to no musicality that it was an enormous letdown for those coming for gorgeous arias and orchestrations. I look forward to seeing and hearing City Opera next season, hopefully bursting in song.
Marie Lenormand in
Courtesy of Pavel Antonov
Marie Lenormand in
Courtesy of Pavel Antonov