Périchole, La (Meilhac & L. Halévy / Offenbach)
Opéra-bouffe in three acts. Libretto by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, after the play Le Carrosse du Saint-Sacrement by Prosper Mérimée. Music by Jacques Offenbach. First performance (in two acts), Paris, Théâtre des Variétés, 6 October 1868. Second version, in three acts and four tableaux: 25 April 1874.
Although La Périchole is now regarded as one of Offenbach’s most famous opéra-bouffes, its premiere did not bode well. After the successes of 1867, 1868 got off to a disastrous start with the failure of the Château à Toto. However, Offenbach’s fears were allayed in the autumn of that year with the performance of La Périchole at the Théâtre des Variétés on 6 October 1868 with Hortense Schneider in the title role. Partial success… or partial failure. The audience did not take as much pleasure as expected in the gallery of poor, starving characters despised by a tyrant, albeit a comical one. People were even outraged at the drunken scene – showing a woman intoxicated! – which brought Act I to a close with the marriage between a tipsy bride and groom… The few successful numbers (The Couplets espagnols and the Lettre) were not enough to keep the work in the repertoire, given the particularly tense political climate. It was not until the end of the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 that the opera was staged again in an extensively revised version. Although the first version was in two acts, the revival of 25 April 1874, again at the Théâtre des Variétés, was in three. This marked a new chapter for the opera, whose music was less abrasive than that of the previous decade, heralding a new “opéra-comique” aesthetic.
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