We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013


Philippe Talbot and Marie Lenormand--photo by Carol Rosegg
New York City Opera closed its season with another indisputable hit--Offenbach's charming 1968 Opera bouffe, La Périchole.  The silly plot concerns a couple of down and out street singers in Lima, Peru who are so unlucky or so untalented that they cannot afford a marriage license.  Don Andrès de Ribeira, the Viceroy, falls in lust with La Périchole and offers her a position at the court; she is so hungry that she accepts.  The Mayor of Lima, Don Pedro de Hinoyoso and the First Gentleman of the Bedchamber, Count Miguel de Panatellas, are charged with finding a husband for La Périchole because the law demands that the position must be filled by a married woman.  The two men unwittingly select her beloved Piquillo, get him drunk and obtain his consent to marry.

La Péerichole recognizes the man she loves but he doesn't recognize her.  When he sobers up he is furious with her and won't present her to the court and is thrown in a prison for "recalcitrant husbands", one of whom has been trying to tunnel his way out for a dozen years.  The rest of the story deals with their escape and the obligatory happy ending.  We have Henri Meilhad and Ludovic Halévy to thank for this wacky story.  But it is Offenbach to whom our most ardent thanks are given, for his frothy melodies delight the ear to such an extent that we have been humming them for days.

We also must express gratitude to Emmanuel Plasson for his Gallic spirit on the podium; he kept the orchestra humming along with one spirited number after another.  And the chorus? They too kept the action moving along and sounded just great doing so.  It could not have been easy to find such superb singers to enchant us with their singing and delight us with their comic skills.  Our compliments to the casting director!

Mezzo Marie Lenormand is a tiny gamine with a huge personality; she met the vocal and dramatic demands of the eponymous role with talent to spare.  As Piquillo, tenor Philippe Talbot hit all the high notes of comedy and pathos.  Even funnier was bass Kevin Burdette who created a lecherous wacky Viceroy by using his long loose limbs to great comic effect.  Baritone Joshua Jeremiah and tenor Richard Troxell filled the parts of the Viceroy's two henchmen in fine form.  The three cousins who cater the Viceroy's parties and have a lot of stage time were soprano Lauren Worsham and mezzos Naomi O'Connell and Carin Gilfry.  There was not a single weakness in the casting and there was a terrific sense of ensemble.  Special credit must be given to the hilarious bartender (Philip Littell) who did not sing but whose subtle facial expressions were an additional stimulus of audience laughter, not to mention his bassoon solo.

Director Christopher Alden can be credited for his plethora of ideas; director Christopher Alden can be blamed for his plethora of ideas!  He certainly kept the laughs coming but he tends to get carried away by his ideas and overdoes things to a certain extent.  We thought there was an excess of "shtick" but the audience seemed not to mind a bit.  There was a bit with a pair of tongs that amusingly clacked along with the music but then were used in a gratuitously sexual manner.  EWWW!

Sets by Paul Steinberg were lively in color and design and modern in time period.  The prison for "recalcitrant husbands" contained a Barcalounger with wrist and ankle restraints.  Piñatas hung from the ceiling and large saguaro cacti made us think of Mexico or Arizona rather than Peru.  Costumes by Gabriel Berry were also somewhat contemporary.  In the opening scene the chorus was dressed in shorts or clam-diggers with bright printed shirts, looking like guests at a suburban backyard barbecue.  Our suspicions were confirmed when the three passive-agressive cousins started passing out hot dogs.  The Viceroy appeared in a succession of outlandish costumes we call "Early Halloween".

The running joke is that the population of Peru must pretend to be happy about the Viceroy's rule but they are completely miserable.  We wonder how the director presented the opera back in Offenbach's day; at NYCO everything that could be done to make it funny to today's audience was done--and then some! 

Still, it was a vastly entertaining evening; audience members left with big smiles.  We are thrilled to see NYCO back on its feet.

© meche kroop

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