- Andrew Lamb
Opéra bouffe in two acts by Jacques Offenbach to a libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy after Prosper Mérimée ’s comedy Le carrosse du Saint-Sacrement; Paris, Théâtre des Variétés, 6 October 1868 (revised in three acts, 25 April 1874).
First performed (in both 1868 and 1874) with Hortense Schneider as La Périchole, José Dupuis as Piquillo and Grenier as the Viceroy, La Périchole is in Offenbach’s most charming, rather than satirical, vein and is one of his richest and most delightful works.
In the main square of Lima, Peru, the crowds are celebrating the Viceroy’s birthday. The Viceroy, Don Andrès del Ribeira (baritone), is there himself – supposedly incognito (‘Sans en rien souffler à personne’), though everyone recognizes him. A pair of impoverished and hungry street-singers La Périchole (soprano) and Piquillo (tenor), sing a lively song of a Spaniard and a young Indian girl (‘Il grandira, car il est espagnol’), and the Viceroy takes a particular fancy to La Périchole. When Piquillo leaves, the Viceroy offers La Périchole a position as lady-in-waiting at the palace. Reluctant as she is to accept, hunger proves the determining factor, and in slow waltz tempo she writes a farewell love letter to Piquillo (‘O mon cher amant, je te jure’). On his return, Piquillo is driven to consider suicide. However, it is necessary for the Viceroy’s favourites to be married and, for the sake of a hot meal, Piquillo takes up an offer from the court chamberlain Comte Miguel de Panatellas (baritone) to marry the latest ‘favourite’ – not knowing that she is La Périchole. Well fed and wined, they reappear for the marriage, with La Périchole thoroughly tipsy (‘Ah, quel dîner!’) and Piquillo too drunk to realize the identity of his bride. Only in Act 2, when he and his wife are presented to the Viceroy, does he grasp the situation. He accuses La Périchole of treachery, sparking a spirited retort (‘Que veulent dire ces colères?’) and securing his own condemnation to the cell reserved for recalcitrant husbands (‘Aux maris ré, aux maris cal, aux maris ci, aux maris trants’). The Viceroy is finally persuaded to give them their freedom, though only (in Act 3 of the ...