by Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)
en trois actes
La Périchole takes place in Lima, Peru, in the eighteenth century. It is the name day of the viceroy, and all are celebrating. The scene is a square outside the tavern of three women known as the Three Cousins. A crowd is drinking and celebrating. The governor of the city of Lima, the first gentleman of the chamber, and the Viceroy himself all arrive incognito. Everyone recognizes the Viceroy, but, respecting his disguise, pretends not to.
La Périchole and Piquillo enter. They are young and good-looking street singers, who make very little money. Though very much in love, they are not married, because they lack the four piastres that it would cost to marry. They sing a ballad about "The Spaniard and the Indian Girl," and a seguidilla duet "The Muleteer and the Young Girl." When the singers are about to pass the hat among the crowd, some showmen appear with performing dogs, and the fickle crowd goes off following the showmen. The singers remain, hungry and destitute. Piquillo goes off in hope of making some money. La Périchole, who is very hungry, lies down to nap.
The Viceroy enters and is struck by La Périchole's beauty. She wakes up, and he offers her a position as Lady in Waiting at the court. Although she knows what the Viceroy has in mind, she is so hungry that she consents. But first, she writes a letter of farewell to Piquillo.
A lady in waiting must be married. The Viceroy instructs the first gentleman of the chamber (Panatellas) to find a husband for La Périchole.
Piquillo returns and reads La Périchole's letter. In despair, he tries to hang himslef, but is rescued by Panatellas. Finding out that Piquillo is unmarried, Panatellas tries to persuade him to marry the Viceroy's favorite. Piquillo, not knowing who that is, is unwilling. Panatellas tries to get Piquillo drunk so that he will consent. The Viceroy leads away La Périchole, with the intention of getting her drunk as well.
Notaries, also drunk, are summoned. La Périchole returns, somewhat drunk,
and sings her tipsy arietta. At first reluctant to marry, she recognizes
Piquillo and consents. Piquillo is too drunk to realize who he is marrying,
but nevertheless goes through with the marriage. They are placed in
palanquins to be taken to the Viceroy's palace.
The next day, at the palace of the Viceroy, four ladies of the court and the Chamberlain discuss the new favorite. Piquillo enters. The ladies tell him that he is married, and the ladies sing, ironically, of his wife's good qualities.
Alone with Panatellas and the governor of Lima (Don Pedro de Hinoyosa), Piquillo says that he married an unknown woman, but loves another. They sing the couplets "Les femmes il n'y a que ça!"
Piquillo expresses a desire to leave, but is told that first he must
present his wife to the Viceroy and the Court. Piquillo's wife enters, and
he is amazed to see that it is La Périchole. He will not listen to any
explanation from her. The Viceroy enters and sits on his throne. Piquillo
throws La Périchole down on the steps to the throne when it is time to
present her. He is arrested and sent to the prison for recalcitrant
The scene is a dark dungeon. An old prisoner enters through a trapdoor. He has been imprisoned for twelve years, and has just managed to break through the wall of his cell by using a small knife. He hopes to break through another wall to freedom in another twelve years. He leaves through the trapdoor when he hears Piquillo being led in.
Piquillo is brought in by Don Pedro and Panatellas. When Piquillo is alone, he reflects on his plight. La Périchole enters, and she and Piquillo declare their love for each other. She tells Piquillo that she has refused the viceroy everything. The Viceroy enters, disguised as a jailer. With jewels that the Viceroy has given her, La Périchole tries to bribe the jailer to set Piquillo free, so that she can leave with Piquillo. The jailer reveals his true identity, and summons guards. Both Piquillo and La Périchole are chained up.
The Viceroy still has hopes. He tells La Périchole that if she decides to be good, she need only sing and he will come. He and the guards leave.
The old prisoner comes thorugh the trapdoor. Upon request, he breaks the chains of Piquillo and La Périchole. La Périchole sings for the Viceroy. When he comes in, the three prisonners manage to overpower him and make their escape.
The scene is the square outside the tavern of the Three Cousins. Soldiers
are seeking the escaped prisoners. The Three Cousins sing a waltz. The
Viceroy appears. La Périchole and Piquillo, dressed again as street singers,
also appear. They sing a ballad about the clemency of Augustus. Flattered,
the Viceroy forgives them, and lets La Périchole keep the jewels he has
given her. However, he cannot pardon the old prisoner since no one remembers
what his offense was. But he still has his little knife.
Copyright 2000 John R. Pierce
A very good recording of La Périchole is available from amazon.com. And from amazon.co.uk. Performed without the spoken dialogue, the recording features Régine Crespin, Alain Vanzo, Jules Bastin, and the Strasbourg Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Alain Lombard.
EMI’s recording of La Périchole with Teresa Berganza, José Carreras, and Gabriel Bacquier, conducted by Michel Plasson, has gone “out of stock” at amazon.com, but a used copy may be available at times.
A 1959 recording with Suzanne Lafaye conducted by Igor Markevitch can be ordered from amazon.com.
And from amazon.co.uk.
Review of student performance--Boston--April 9, 2000
LA PÉRICHOLE. Opéra bouffe in three acts. Music by Jacques Offenbach. Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy. Based on Mérimée's Le Carosse du Saint-Sacrement. English version by Maurice Valency. A performance by the Opera Theater of the New England Conservatory. At the Emerson Majectic Theatre, Boston, Sunday April 9, 2000, beginning at 3 p.m. Conductor: John Moriarty. Stage Director and Choreographer: Marc Astafan. Scenic designer: Janie Howland. Costume design: Donna Lynch. Lighting design: Michael Klima. Chorusmaster: Angela Ward. Cast: Natalie Miller (Estrella, Jessica Coopera (Guadalena), Heather Peterson (Virginella), Morgan Moody (Don Pedro de Corona, Mayor of Lima), Jonathan Boxer (The Count of Panatellas), Alan Corbishley (Don Andres de Ribeira, Viceroy of Peru), Melanie Jardine (Périchole), Jermaine Smith (Paquillo), Jonathan Nadel (First Notary), Daniel Gerdes (Second Notary), Barbara Vogt (Ninetta), Kate Hughes (Brambilla), Lori Schmidt (Frasquinella), Millinee McCurdy (Manuelita), NIkolas Nackley (The Marquis de Tarapote, Lord Chancellor), Anthony Ciotti (An Old Prisoner), and James Lopez (Jailer).
I attended a performance of Offenbach's La Périchole in English at the Emerson Majestic Theatre in Boston on the afternoon of Sunday April 9, 2000. The cast and the orchestra (except for the conductor and the harpist) were students at the New England Conservatory of Music. The performance was an enjoyable one. Especially effective were the crowd scenes, with a talented, appropriately enthusiastic ensemble.
La Périchole, one of Offenbach's later works, is closer to the typical opéra-comique than his earlier works, and has been performed by many opera companies, including the Metropolitan Opera in New York. Like Bizet's Carmen, La Périchole has a libretto based on a work of Prosper Mérimée. La Périchole is a very humorous work, and fortunately for the modern audience, its humor can be appreciated without any knowledge of people or conditions in nineteenth-century France that may have been indirectly satirised.
The brightly colorful sets and costumes at the Conservatory's performance lent a certain gaiety to the proceedings. The costumes were those of an operetta never-neverland. No attempt was made at any sort of period authenticity. Although La Périchole is set in colonial Peru of the eighteenth century, the costumes were more evocative of the nineteenth century, perhaps for economic reasons.
All the members of the cast were more than adequate. Melanie Jardine in the title role had a pretty voice of good size. She sang her letter aria well, and was especially effective in connecting with the audience in the song in which her character is supposed to be inebriated. Jermaine Smith was a likeable Paquillo. Alan Corbishley, Jonathan Boxer, and Morgan Moody did well as the Viceroy, the Count of Panatellas, and the Mayor of Lima. Natalie Miller, Jessica Cooper, and Heather Peterson as the three cousins who run a tavern were dramatically the most interesting members of the cast. The orchestra played well, and was well conducted. Boston audiences should be grateful to the New England Conservatory for providing the opportunity to see such a pleasant but seldom staged work.