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EMAV Review: SCO charms with their whimsical adaptation of “La Périchole” ★★★★☆

★★★★☆ - Delicious

Las Vegas’ own Sin City Opera is known for their colloquial interpretations of classical opera pieces which lend themselves to both aficionados and modern lay audiences alike, and their lively, beautifully sung presentation of Jacques Offenbach’s 1868 opéra bouffe “La Périchole” is no exception. Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy’s libretto is based on the 1829 one-act “Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement” by Prosper Mérimée, with the titular character based on real-life eighteenth century Peruvian actress Micaela Villegas who was mistress to Manuel de Amat y Junyent, Viceroy of Spanish Peru from 1761-1776.

Director Skip Galla painstakingly translated the book and lyrics from French to English, and Music Director and Conductor Dean Balan (with Christin Nance) worked out the arrangements. Retaining the French and Spanish flavor of the piece, Galla cleverly updated the comedy to match today’s sensibilities by keeping a farcical flair without the archaic political satire. Plus, some things never go out of style. Just about everyone loves a good party, and there’s a whole lot of carousing going on in this playful show.

It opens with a drinking song of sorts as merrymaking villagers (the chorus), in their striped fishermen shirts and red berets, gather in town square for the free booze that Three Cousins’ Cabaret owners Guadalena (Athena Mertes), Berginella (Casey Dakus), and Mastrilla (Stephanie Sadownik) are pouring, clad in lace as they elegantly sing in honor of the Viceroy’s birthday. “Salud, we’ll drink our cares away,” goes their refrain.

The lothario Viceroy, played with a quiet baritone and amusing yet restrained foppishness by James McGoff, arrives in silly disguise to anonymously gauge what he thinks is the adoration of his subjects and sing and prance to his “Incognito” song. “They love me,” he excitedly declares, too dim to realize they mock him instead.

Young gypsy sweethearts Périchole, played by joyful mezzo-soprano Lauren McAllister, and Piquillo, played with idealistic naiveté by tenor Kevin Harvey, are starving entertainers who stroll about singing and hoping for donations from appreciative crowds. They wish to marry but can’t afford the certificate. They make a handsome couple, with McAllister a striking gamine in her Bohemian-style fringed dress and periwinkle roses in her hair.

“I’ve come for love” they harmoniously duet, but Périchole attracts the wrong kind when the Viceroy takes a fancy to her. He wants her to be his mistress, and woos the hungry girl with sweets. McAllister sings a lovely, mournful ballad as she pens a farewell letter to her Piquillo, because for propriety’s sake, she is to be wed to someone else instead.

But as fate and huge amounts of alcohol will have it, the pair find themselves smashed and married by funny drunken Notaries (Christopher Martin and Clea Reynolds) during their tipsy wedding. Each lover has a tipsy aria, with Harvey’s tongue-in-cheek song about his being gay (the happy kind, not the fabulous kind) a highlight. The first act ends on a boisterous, slapstick-filled high, with the chorus humming that they “stumble, tumble, bumble, and fumble.”

The second act finds songbird Courtiers (Andie Moreno, Richelle Janushan, Gloria Grev, and Krishna Alexandra) in flowers and ruffles performing pretty harmonies while gossiping to Piquillo about what a trollop Périchole is, turning him against her and landing him in the “Dungeon for Recalcitrant Husbands.”

This leads to a nice three-part bit with Piquillo and comic foil Viceroy officials Panatellas (Emily Kurcan Stephenson) and Hinoyosa (Nicole Harris). “Sadly for you, that means you’re screwed,” they delightedly sing. But of course, everything turns out happily in the end.

Keyboardist Balan’s five piece orchestra sounds surprisingly lush and full, and includes Nance on flute, Aki Oshima on clarinet, Lindsay Johnson on cello, and Miranda Kennedy alternating with Dr. Laraine Kaizer-Viazotsev on violin.

The splendid visuals included Ginger Land-van Buuren’s lavish costumes and Toni Kendrick’s town-square set with central fountain and string-lighted colorful clotheslines spanning the stage, though the dungeon setting seems a bit undone. Supertitles of lyrics projected stage left allow words to sink in, but diction is generally good. And considering the abundance of folksy music in the score, it’s surprising there isn’t more dance choreography in the ensemble scenes.

Sin City Opera’s original adaptation of “La Périchole” is a colorful, engagingly whimsical show.

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