La Perichole | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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La Perichole


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La Perichole is certainly the most outrageous of Offenbach's famous comic Operas. Its improbable plot is loosely based on a true-life scandal in 18th-century Lima involving a stuffy Spanish viceroy and a temperamental Peruvian actress: he was so possessive of her that his nickname for her was "perra chola" ("native bitch," hence the title) (The same story inspired the Jean Renoir film classic The Golden Coach.) Of course, in accordance with operetta conventions, Offenbach's librettists added a handsome troubadour to further complicate the romantic entanglements and confusions, and their jokes about colonists were really satirical jabs at the court of Napoleon III. The libretto may seem dated and campy, but in its time La Perichole was such a hit with Parisians that it was immediately burlesqued by others. What makes it so endearing and enduring, however, is its scintillating score: among the memorable moments is the gorgeous, pathos-laden "Letter Song" (in act one). In this Light Opera Works revival, under the knowing guidance of Philip Kraus, the title role is performed by soprano Debra Austen. Two LOW regulars play her tormented suitors: Norman Engstrom (Piquillo) and David Huneryager (the Viceroy); and two of my favorite LOW character actors, John Holland and Bill Wronski, are in supporting parts. The conductor is Timothy Shaindlin from the Pittsburgh Opera. Tonight and Saturday, 8 PM, and Sunday, 2 PM, Cahn Auditorium, Northwestern University, 600 Emerson, Evanston. 869-6300.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/J.B. Spector.

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