I first heard Jacques Offenbach’s La Périchole back on a Met Saturday afternoon broadcast in 1957. Loosely based on Micaela Villegas, (La Perricholi) a historical character well known in Peru, it concerns La Périchole and Piquillo, two impoverished Peruvian street-singers too poor to afford a marriage license. The lecherous viceroy, Don Andrès de Ribeira wishes to make La Périchole his mistress but inadvertently arranges for the two lovers to get married. The music is amongst Offenbach’s most charming and lacks the satirical bite of many of his works. I was enchanted by both the music and the performances of Cyril Richard (Mary Martin’s Captain Hook) as the Viceroy and the inimitable character tenor Alessio De Paolis as a demented Old Prisoner. I remember when a hightlights recording was issued with the same cast that I most upset to discover that it was only available to members of the Metropolitan Opera Record Club and was well beyond my weekly allowance.
Though I never did get that Met recording I was eventually to get have two recordings of the complete operetta and a few excerpt discs in my library. Amongst those excerpts were two by the Russian operetta star Claudia Novikova recorded back in 1937. I had not realized that there was such a thing as Moscow Operetta State Academic Theatre and that La Périchole was a great favourite during the Stalninist period (!), particularly if Novikova was singing.
In Act 1 Périchole has left Piquillo and she has been wined and dined by the Viceroy who wishes her to join his wife’s house hold as a lady-in-waiting and his own as his mistress. However to do the former and become the later she must be married. So they get anyone they find who just happens to be Piquillo who has been drowning his broken heart in wine. They both arrived at the ceremony tipsy and Périchole tells us all about the great diner she’s just had.
Novikova was known for her laugh and here she uses it (perhaps too) liberally. I find the laugh most infectious and at no point does it interfere with the vocal line.
I have fond memories of listening to that recording at my last dinner with my darling Ryan. He, Uncle Pervy, and myself – though not quite as tipsy as Périchole – end up laughing ourselves silly as we listen to it.
But Novikov wasn’t a one trick pony – she had rock stolid technique and the ability to convey character in just a phrase or two. In Act III Périchole declares her love for Piquillo even if he “isn’t all that good looking or riche” and when Novikov declares it any Piquillo would be a fool not to believe her.
The word for June 15th is:
Laugh /laf/: [1. verb 2. noun]
1. To make the spontaneous sounds and movements of the face and body that are the instinctive expressions of lively amusement and sometimes also of contempt or derision.
2. An act of laughing
Old English hlæhhan, hliehhan, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch and German lachen,