NEW YORK (AP) — Jacques Offenbach's "La Perichole" struggled to break through and was ultimately suffocated in Christopher Alden's heavy-handed and annoying production, the last of New York City Opera's second season as a roaming company.
An opera bouffe that's usually airy and sometimes saccharine, "La Perichole" devolved into a series of sophomoric sight gags, overshadowing fine vocal work by mezzo-soprano Marie Lenormand as Perichole and tenor Philippe Talbot as Piquillo, the pair of young street singers.
Seen Tuesday night in the second performance of a run of four, this was City Opera's second staging this season at New York City Center, its home from 1944-65. Alden seemed to be inspired by Monty Python's visit to City Center in 1976. Don Andre de Ribeira, the Viceroy of Peru sung by bass Kevin Burdette, pranced about the stage in the manner of John Cleese as the Minister of Silly Walks. He was costumed by Gabriel Berry as a superhero, a cowboy in black and white, a Gatsby-like charmer and Fidel Castro.
All this was distracting, given that "Perichole" can be charming, with a love story, mistaken identity and a happy ending.
Offenbach and librettists Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halevy set the opening scene in the main square of Lima, outside The Three Cousins tavern. Alden's version is more like a Malibu, Calif., barbecue, where the cousins grill hot dogs and serve the franks to a crowd in modern casual attire, with paper party hats on heads and holding margaritas. Pinatas dangled overhead.
Paul Steinberg's set around them is a gold, black and white mosaic, which transforms into the viceroy's palace for the second act with the addition of a long, aqua sofa in front of a row of cacti.
Performing the 1874 three-act version, with cuts and changes to the spoken dialogue, conductor Emmanuel Plasson led an idiomatic musical performance with verve and grace. But the score was overwhelmed by the hamminess. "Ah, quel diner (Ah, what a lunch)" should be Perichole's comic tipsy aria; here she was a stumbling drunk.
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