Romantic-comedy, opera and escapist”s dream all describe Jaques Offenbach”s operetta, “La Perichole.” It”s a different sort of opera, closer to a musical than traditional operatic pieces.

Paul Wong
The Three Cousins (Megan Besley, Alissa Mercurio and Kimberley Dolanski) get pornographic in “La Perichole.”<br><br>Courtesy of University Productions

“It has great dance numbers, lots of ensemble pieces, and the plot moves through the songs,” said Conductor Steven Byess. “It”s just delightful you can see why Offenbach was so popular.”

As a romantic comedy, the plot revolves around dreamy themes of misidentity and love and is played out in ironical twists with hoppin” melodies. Byess calls the music “fun, spirited, and fast,” like a swanky party. And best of all for American audiences, “La Perichole” will be sung in English.

Originally set in 19th C Peru, an exotic dream-place for Parisian audiences, Joshua Major, director of the production, cunningly relocated the show to a 1950s beach town to capture an exotic aura for modern audiences.

“Perichole needs an environment that is exotic, mythical, and self-indulgent. These days we attach those labels to beach locations Fiji, Mexico, Tahiti and the Caribbean,” Major said in a press release. “Our recollection of the 1950s has been similarly romanticized. That romanticism has caused a resurgence of “50s culture with its frivolous clothes and drinks such as cosmopolitans and martinis. By combining the exoticism of a beach locale with the mythical and whimsical qualities of the 1950s, we believe that we are creating an environment on stage where this story can happen.”

The story takes some absurd turns, even for an opera. Perichole and Paquillo are street-singers in love, who seek marriage. On the crowded streets of a 1950s beach town and at a Viceroy”s drunken party they sing to make enough money for a ceremony. Luckless, Paquillo departs to raise cash. At his departure the Viceroy, who observes Perichole”s performance with love in his eyes, offers Perichole a place in his court. Torn but tired of poverty, she accepts, leaving a small, apologetic note for Paquillo. A decree dictates that all women of the court must be married. Obeying this law, the Viceroy instructs his men to find for Perichole a husband. Coincidentally, they find Paquillo, now desolate and drunk, to marry Perichole. But Paquillo is too drunk at his wedding to recognize his bride. Instead of being happy he remains depressed until the next morning, when he becomes aware that Perichole is the bride beside him. But considering what”s happened, he blows up. Perichole and Paquillo then struggle to happily end their passion as complications abound.

Offenbach was famous for his ridiculous comic operas with fairy-tale plots, which later inspired Gilbert and Sullivan. He had a prolific career, composing over 100 stage works, including “Orpheus in the Underworld,” “La Vie Parisienne,” and “The Tales of Hoffman.” Originally trained as a cellist at the Paris Conservatory, he composed music for both the voice instruments. In 1855, he rented a theater to begin staging his first attempts at comic opera composition.

Joshua Major recently directed more than 80 opera productions including “The Marriage of Figaro,” “La Traviata,” “Don Giovanni,” “La Boheme” and most recently, “Le Tragedie de Carmen” at Boston University. Steven Byess is a Visiting Lecturer in Music he is also the Music Director of the Cobb Symphony Orchestra in Georgia and the Associate Music Director of the Ohio Light Opera.

Vincent Mountain is the scenic designer for the production and has done previous work on “Falstaff.” The costume designer, Meghann O”Malley is an undergraduate student in the Department of Theater and Drama making her mainstage debut. Lighting Designer Heather Chockley”s works has been seen in “Falstaff” and “S”lichot.” The Choreography, designed by Lisa Catrett-Belrose, completes the design aspects of the performance.

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