Mercoledi Musicale

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,

Mercoledi Musicale

ma un po ‘tardi

Late again ….  but to be honest as anyone who has been retired for any length of time can tell you the days start losing their sequence and meaning after a while.

Given that on a grand level the world seems to be a confused and confusing place these days I think we could all use a bit of a musical pick me up.  Something to set our feet tapping and maybe, just maybe, make the old zygomaticus major do its work.  I know nothing makes mine draw my mouth superiorly and posteriorly to allow for a smile than this little dance tune by Jacques Offenbach.

Now tell me that at the least your toes weren’t tapping and that maybe there was even a slight activation of your zygomaticus major?

On this day in 1907: Norway grants women the right to vote.

Mercoledi Musicale

Unfortunately it appears that the video extract I posted cannot be viewed in certain areas.  I’ve been searching for other extracts from the operetta and do apologize.  I have yet to decide whither it would be best to just take it down as the point was to introduce some lovely music.

Just in time for Christmas last year Opéra National de Lyon staged a wondrous revival of Jacques Offenbach’s satirical opéra-bouffe-féerie Le Roi Carotte (King Carrot).  It became the surprise hit of the opera season in France and was awarded the prize as “Best Rediscovered Work” at the International Opera Awards 2016.  It was televised over the holiday season in Europe and scored high with an even wider audience.

A poster by Henri Meyer from an 1891 production of Sardou and Offenbach’s opéra-bouffée-feerie.

The work premiered at Théâtre de la Gaîté in Paris in January of 1872 (it had been delayed by the Franco-Prussian War) and proved a popular success.  It had an initial run of 192 performances and pulled in 3,000 francs in daily profits.  However with four acts, twenty-two scenes, fifteen hundred costumes and a cast of several hundred it was an expensive show to run and had little chance of entering the standard repertoire.  However Offenbach and Victorien Sardou (Sarah Bernhardt’s playwright of choice) did publish a three-act version which was seen  in London and Vienna within a year or two of its Paris premiere.  The second version was revived several times in Paris but then seems to have disappeared.  According to a report in the New York Times in November of 1873 when it was produced for the first time at the new Grand Opera House in Manhattan ‘the music is to be given with additions and alterations made for this country by Offenbach himself.  Sardou has likewise composed a special “apotheosis” to end the spectacle …’  If a later report in the same newspaper is credible the scenery and costumes were much appreciated, Offenbach and Sardou’s efforts to please their New York audiences less so.

For the Lyon production conductor Victor Aviat and director Laurent Pelly went with the revised version with a successful (and funny) updating by Agathe Mélinand – though it appears that little updating was really required as much of Sardou’s satire seemed very, very current.

In the tradition of opéra-bouffe-féerie magic and magicians are involved in this story of a kingdom who’s monarch,  Fridolin XXIV, has bankrupt his country and is planning to wed a foreign princess for money.  As the courtship progresses a strange figure and his entourage appear:  King Carotte.  Carrot plans to subjugate the Kingdom to his greedy will.  Coloquinte, an evil fairy  has aroused him from his underground home and places an enchantment on the court and people of the kingdom.  No matter what stupid or rude thing Carotte does they blame Fridolin.  Carotte drinks and Fridolin appears drunk, Carrot sneezes and the King goes into spasms.  He picks his nose and the court turns on the Fridolin in disgust.  The interloper is boorish and makes outlandish statements and the King shoulders the blame.  Soon the court and populace have turned their back on Fridolin and proclaim Carotte as their new ruler.  They are blind to his ignorance and lies and no one can see the dangers that they soon will be facing in their Kingdom as they willingly succumb to the rule of a tyrant.

Costume for Le Roi Carotte – Draner – 1872

In the remaining acts Fridolin, his good sorcerer, and a few faithful friends attempt to find a way to oust the usurper and regain the kingdom.  At one point they are transported to Pompeii with instructions to find a magic ring.

They arrive at the the ruins of the once grand metropolis and they are struck by the sombreness of the “dead city” and in a glorious quartet express their fear, wonderment and even sadness of what has happened there.  If ever there was proof needed that Offenbach composed something more than a barcarole or a can-can this lovely piece should serve the purpose.  Here it is performed by Chloé Briot, Julie Boulianne, Yann Beuron and Jean-Sébastien Bou conducted by Victor Aviat.

The city is reanimated for them by magic and they escape with the ring just as Vesuvius begins to rock and roll.  Several attempts to overthrow Carotte fail until finally the populace tires of rising prices and the injustices of King Carotte and his band of thugs.  Realizing that they have been tricked and lied to the citizens start an uprising and restore Fridolin to his throne.  As I said Mélinand had to do very little updating to hit the satirical mark.

Every delightful moment of the Lyon production is available (in French only I’m afraid) on YouTube by left clicking:  Le Roi Carotte d’Offenbach à l’Opéra de Lyon.

On this day in 1836:  the Crystal Palace in London is destroyed by fire.

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