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La Périchole – Paris (Opéra Comique) – Review

La Perrichole is back and so much the better! After several French cities (Montpellier, Bordeaux, Clermont-Ferrand, Avignon and Versailles), it is finally Paris’s turn to rediscover one of Offenbach’s most inspired and touching works. There are indeed not many of these opera-bouffes whose opening begins in such a severe way, seeming to show, behind the gaudriole, how cruel the precarious condition of street artists is, and that Offenbach has a lot of empathy for its starving heroes.

Unfortunately, the staging of Valerie Lesort seems to only want to highlight the food aspect of the opera, to the point of indigestion. In his Peru parody, the smallest measure is decked out with choreography, a gag, puppets, anything, as if we feared the void and let the music convince alone. The two songs of the first act are played in a deliberately forced and awkward way with forceful gesticulations (these hands gradually marking the pitch on “Il grandira”), the tune of the letter is ruined by dancers disguised as dishes, the police arrive on bouncing balloons for “Jump on it”, the interlude before Act III purports to wrap up the action of Acts I and II in a forgettable pantomime. What should be refreshing is often parasitic, diverts the attention, and the critic deplores, like the Périchole, that the public prefers to admire the learned dogs rather than to listen to his songs. There is no shortage of visual finds (the disguised dancers whose wigs imitate the tails of mules, the baskets of dresses in which the noble ladies of the II collapse), but they are drowned in a debauchery of costumes and a direction of ubiquitous actors who want to make a spell out of every word (painful scene where the 3 leaders seek to intoxicate notaries, Périchole and Piquillo with various alcohols) on spoken passages largely rewritten or cut. This excess is reminiscent of a show for children, surprising from a director whose other shows in this same place shone with their balance and their inventive delicacy. Tonight, we rather believe to attend a show of Jérôme Deschamps supercharged.

© Stefan Brion

Balance is also what the set lacks. Everyone strives to overact their text and deploy colossal energy, which is enough to bring the supporting roles to life, but apart from Eric Huchetno one stands out for the quality of his singing. Tassis Christoyannis is a very libidinous and present viceroy, a pity that the sung text is so difficult to understand. Philippe Talbot still suffers from an irregular emission which also affects the intelligibility of his text, while his pronunciation is very neat. He nevertheless manages to make the character very endearing in his air of prison. Stephanie d’Oustrac finally there is a large-format Périchole with magnificent bass, sovereign projection and limpid pronunciation but which would have gained from more simplicity: its air of the letter is far too grandiloquent to move, except in the last verse where a form of sincerity stripped suddenly radiates; the air of drunkenness lacks abandon but sees her very attentive to renewing her drunken inflections; “That men are stupid” is quite successful, even if she abuses the spoken voice a little, and it is finally in the declamation of “I love you Brigand” that her character is the most natural.

What we can only applaud, however, is the quality of the sets. Thanks first to the formidable choir The elementswith an admirable cohesion and accuracy (“Dear Lord come back to you” sounds tonight like a real piece of Grand Opera), and to the direction of Julien Leroy at the head of the Orchester de Chambre de Paris: the rhythms are lively, the contrasts precisely rendered, we can only blame them for sometimes playing a little loudly. At least this energy deployed by all will have been put at the service of a very well regulated show, warmly welcomed by the public.

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