Wine and Opera part 14: La Périchole

8th April, 2014 by Rupert Millar

Je suis un peu grise

286ff40973887d3ccbb2d912c039e28f120d431fAlmost as prolific as Verdi when it comes to drinking scenes, Jacques Offenbach makes another appearance with a rare drunk scene played for laughs instead of being wrought with emotional angst.

In La Périchole the drunken aria of the main female character (also called La Périchole) is known as the “tipsy aria” because the lead is supposed to be visibly intoxicated when singing – indeed the music even encourages the soprano in the role to laugh and hiccup occasionally.

Like all good comedy La Périchole’s humour is founded on mistaken identity – fuelled in this instance by drunkenness.

Set in Lima, the opera revolves around the impoverished singers Piquillo and La Périchole who are trying to, unsuccessfully, raise enough money to buy a marriage licence.

La Périchole catches the eye of the Viceroy of Peru, Don André de Ribeira and, while Piquillo is away, he persuades her to become a lady in waiting at his court – while actually wanting her as his mistress.

Unaware but suspicious of his motives, La Périchole accepts and writes a farewell letter to Piquillo.

However, to be an official mistress she needs to be married and so the Viceroy sends some of his men out into town to find a suitable husband.

As luck would have it they find the suicidal Piquillo, distraught over La Périchole’s desertion, and after plying him with drink he agrees to marry the Viceroy’s new mistress in exchange for payment.

There follows a drunken wedding scene in which both Piquillo and La Périchole are roaring drunk – however, though La Périchole is happy to be marrying Piquillo after all, he has no idea who she is because she is wearing a veil.

Ah! quel diner je viens de faire!
Et quel vin extraordinaire!
J’en ai tant mangé… mais tant et tant,
Que je crois bien que maintenant
Je suis un peu grise…
Mais chut!
Faut pas qu’on le dise!
Chut!

Si ma parole est un peu vague,
Si tout en marchant je zigzague,
Et si mon oeil est égrillard,
Il ne faut s’en étonner, car…
Je suis un peu grise…
Mais chut!
Faut pas qu’on le dise!
Chut!

“Ah! What a lunch I have just had,
And what extraordinary wine!
I drank so much of it, so much, so much,
That I am fairly certain that now
I am a little tipsy.
But shh!
We must not let anyone know–
Shh!”

“If my speech is somewhat vague,
If while walking I zigzag,
If my eye wanders,
Do not be astonished, because
I am a little tipsy…”

The next morning when Piquillo has sobered up, been told he has married the viceroy’s mistress and found out that said mistress is La Périchole he angrily rejects her and is thrown into the prison for recalcitrant husbands.

La Périchole comes to meet him there and assures him that she has not been unfaithful to him (yet) and tries to bribe the jailer to let them go.

Lo and behold however the jailer is none other than the Viceroy in disguise (who saw that coming?). He has La Périchole shackled and imprisoned as well.

The pair escape when an aged prisoner who has spent the last few years tunnelling through the walls trying to escape (without success) breaks in and frees them.

They tie up the Viceroy on their way out for good measure. Now, if this were a tragedy then everyone’s death would be assured but it’s not and so, despite stretching credulity pretty thin, the Viceroy pardons them in the last act when they flatter him with a song about clemency.

All’s well that ends well, and even the aged prisoner is allowed to go so he can’t destroy any more walls in the Viceroy’s cavernous dungeons.

Interestingly, the source material for the opera is a short story by the French writer Prosper Merimée who also wrote the story on which Bizet’s Carmen is based.

Below, Spanish mezzosoprano, Teresa Berganza, sings the “tipsy aria”.

Next time: Bohemian rhapsody in 19th century Paris
Previously: die Fledermaus

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