Garsington Opera takes off in a new repertoire direction with this production by multi-talented man-of-the-theatre Jeremy Sams of Offenbach’s 1868 opera bouffe. Sams has translated the piece anew, keeping faith with Offenbach’s notes and penning many witty lines; it makes excellent sense to play this lightweight piece containing plenteous dialogue in English. He also directs the pacy, good-natured staging, attractively designed by Francis O’Connor, which hits all available spots smack in the centre.
Naomi O'Connell (La Perichole) and Robert Murray (Piquillo) in La Perichole by Garsington, Wormsley Photo: Tristram Kenton
The plot concerns a Peruvian street singer, whose name - La Perichole - translates roughly (and rudely) as ‘half-breed bitch’, and her boyfriend Piquillo. Neither of them has the money to marry, so she goes to earn some as the live-in favourite of the Spanish viceroy - a role played with manic brilliance by Geoffrey Dolton. There’s a dark core to the piece about the respective power of the rich and the poor, scarcely disguised by the numerous delights of the score, which is among Offenbach’s best. Number after number displays the composer’s ingenuity, and also his legacy to Gilbert and Sullivan. David Parry conducts with impeccable vitality.
At the centre are two first-rate performances from the ingenue leads, Naomi O’Connell’s Perichole and Robert Murray’s Piquillo. Both of them sing with grace and style, she suitably sharp-witted and streetwise; he - something of a James Corden lookalike in a rumbustious comic performance - softer and more vulnerable. Between the two of them, they take every trick that comes their way. Mark Wilde and Simon Butteriss lead a perfectly co-ordinated supporting company. It’s a wonderful evening’s entertainment - a pity it cannot transfer to the West End.