An opéra-bouffe in 2 acts. Music by Jacques Offenbach. Book and Lyrics by Ludovic Halévy and Henri Meilhac based on Le Carosse du Saint-Sacrament by Prosper Mérimée.
Théâtre des Variétés, Paris 6 October, 1868.
Princes Theatre, London - 27 June 1870
Pikes Opera House, New York - 28 April, 1879
SynopsisThe setting is Lima, the capital of Peru in the 1750s when Peru was a Spanish dominion. To suit the whim of the Viceroy - a great man for the ladies - an attractive street-singer (La Périchole) is brought to court and made a Countess by the simple expedient of marrying her to a newly-titled 'Count' who is really her street-singer partner and lover. Good comedy character parts, engaging romantic intrigues, colourful costumes and delightful music - including the celebrated "Letter Song".
At the 'Trois Cousines' bar, in the city of Lima, the three ladies who give their name to the establishment are pouring out the wine as the people celebrate the birthday of the Viceroy with all the vigour of folk who have been paid to do so. The three cousins are lively ladies but they do not make a habit of giving their merchandise away. The responsibility for all this purchased gaiety lies with Don Pedro de Hinoyosa, the governor of the city. Don Pedro is, for his own sake, intent that the Viceroy should see that his capital is a happy and satisfied place and, to make sure that all goes according to plan, he is lurking in the vicinity of the 'Trois Cousines' disguised as a vegetable seller.
The bread-seller who passes by soon after is, equally, no real merchant but the Comte de Panatellas, the Viceroy's first gentleman of the bedchamber. He, too, is out and about en paysan, keeping an eye on his master, Don Andrès, who has also taken to the streets, disguised as a doctor, with the intention of finding out what his people truly think of his administration and, also, of enjoying the company of the girls of the town.
The Viceroy finds little frankness at the 'Trois Cousines', for the entire place has been peopled with the relatives of Don Pedro bribed and primed to give flattering responses and the hostesses are so taken with giggling that they can barely keep up the charade. Finally, Don Andrès lights upon a passing Red Indian and, deciding that here he will find his vox populi, he takes him off for an in-depth interview.
The next arrivals in the square outside the 'Trois Cousines' are a pair of strolling singers, Piquillo and La Périchole. They entertain with their song of 'L'Espagnol et la Jeune Indienne' but, as Piquillo insists on going round with the hat, they take no money. When Périchole takes a turn at the collection things look better, but the jealous Piquillo insults every man who goes to give his beloved money and, once again, the singers end up with nothing. Nothing will not pay for food and the two are very hungry. Only their love for each other keeps them going. They have nothing else, not even the four piastres needed to pay for the long-awaited marriage licence. Périchole is exhausted and can go no further, so Piquillo leaves her to sleep off her hunger while he continues to try to win a few coins by his singing.
Don Andrès has spent half an hour questioning his Indian only to discover, in the end, that the native is none other than Panatellas in disguise. Piqued to the core at being unable to find anyone who will give him an honest answer, he is delighted to hear a voice complaining of a wretched day and a dreadful country. It is Périchole, who has discovered that it is not easy to get to sleep when one's stomach is empty. Andrès is even more delighted when he looks on the grumbler and sees that she is a beautiful woman. Within the space of a few words, the Viceroy has fallen head-over-heels for the pretty street singer and, before long, he is promising to make her lady-in-waiting to his wife. The fact that his wife has been dead for some years has never prevented him from keeping a corps of ladies-in-waiting at the palace in her memory.
Périchole is an old hand with flirts and she is distinctly dubious of a man who dresses like a doctor and yet claims to be the Viceroy of Peru. Even when he insists that she compare his profile with the head on a piastre, she is still doubtful. Finally Andrès can think of only one way to prove his identity. He makes Périchole join with him to cry out, 'Down with the Viceroy'. When they do so, Pedro and Panatellas come running, only to end up genuflecting before their master and the amazed Périchole.
La Périchole agrees to come to court but, while she starts to scribble out a note of explanation to Piquillo, Pedro and Panatellas learn with dismay that the Viceroy does not intend to set the street singer up safely and distantly in his naughty little house around the corner but proposes, quite openly, to take her to court and install her in the apartment once known to be that of the royal mistress. It is too frightful, and they object with all the force of men who know their statute book. Once upon a time, in order to prevent the Viceroy from getting himself into unfortunate tangles with young ladies, it was legally enacted that the apartment in question should be inhabited only by a married lady. Périchole is nothing of the sort and therefore the Viceroy's suggestion is illegal.
Don Andrès is not deterred. He orders his gentleman to produce a husband on the spot, and his governor to come up with a notary. Périchole shall be married to some insignificant fellow and the law thus placated. In the meanwhile, Périchole has been penning her farewells to her dear Piquillo. Her love for him is no less than it has always been, but she can no longer endure the hardships and privations of their life. She will be faithful to him and to their love but, for now, it is au revoir. She accepts from Don Andrès a bag of coins, which she assures him is destined for an aged relative, and gives both the note and the money into the care of the three cousins to be delivered to Piquillo. Then she heads for the Viceroy's little house and the long-awaited dinner.
When Piquillo returns, he finds Périchole gone. The cousins decide it is better to keep the money for themselves, but they give him the note, and the exhausted singer is broken-hearted to read his beloved's farewell. He has nothing left to live for. A nail, the shoulder strap of Périchole's guitar and a stool are all he needs to string himself up but, having done so, he finds the last little leap from the stool rather difficult. He gets unlooked-for help when Panatellas, coming out of the bar, kicks the stool away and Piquillo would be well and truly hanged if he hadn't forgotten that the guitar strap was made of rubber. It stretches and he lands on top of Panatellas who is delighted to see him. Here is a man who has nothing to live for. He is just the man he needs for the subterfuge marriage.
Business is brisk at the 'Trois Cousines'. Don Andrès comes flying across the street to order a glass of malaga for Périchole. It will help her get over her aversion to a marriage of convenience. A few seconds later, Don Pedro needs port for the notary whom he must lure away from a little card-game with some colleagues and Panatellas wants madeira wine with which to restore Piquillo to confidence. Don Andrès himself, exhausted by watching all the strings of his plot coming together, needs a drop of sherry and then some alicante for his lady friend who is clearly loosening up nicely under the effects of malaga. The liquor flows and finally has its effect. Périchole agrees to wed a convenient husband sight unseen, Piquillo consents to play the same game, and the notaries are alcoholically pried away from their game. The wedding can take place. The notaries weave a rather crooked path up the street and Périchole's exit from the Viceroy's house is little more steady.
It is, however, much more controversial for, having put away a brave dinner and plenty of wine, the young lady is in a very much less amenable frame of mind than when she was starving, and she suddenly and stoutly refuses to be wed. Then she sees who her unknown bridegroom is to be — a very wobbly, very tipsy Piquillo who is so under the influence that he doesn't recognise her — and she changes her tune. Piquillo informs her drunkenly that he will never love his wife as his heart is given and the marriage goes ahead. The ceremony over, the two are carried off in separate palanquins, as the curtain falls.
At the Viceroy's palace, his courtier Tarapote has fainted. He has heard the news of the Viceroy's frightful behaviour and heard the hideous drunken singing, late at night, of the slut whom his superior has brought into the viceregal household and given the apartments which should belong to a lady of the court. Piquillo, who awakes to find himself clad in gorgeous clothes, left alone in a place which seems to be a museum or some such, and called the Marquis du Mananares and Baron de Tobago, is even more confused but, little by little, the scornful jibes of the courtiers and court ladies allow him to piece together the events of the past night.
He remembers that Panatellas and Pedro promised him a large sum of money with which to get out of town and go in search of his beloved Périchole once his marriage was done, but there is yet one deed which he needs to perform for them before he can be allowed to go. He must present his wife formally to the Viceroy in court. Since this will allow him to see the woman he married with straight eyes, Piquillo agrees, but he is stunned when his wife appears and proves to be none other than his own Périchole.
He breaks out in anger as she tries to calm him sufficiently to make him understand that she is not the Viceroy's mistress and that she is acting for the ultimate happiness of the two of them but Piquillo will have none of it. Bitterly he flings his wife at the Viceroy's feet, denouncing her horribly and scorning the viceregal person. The furious Don Andrès orders his arrest and Piquillo is roughly dragged off to the dungeon reserved for difficult husbands.
La Périchole uses her feminine wiles to win, firstly, home comforts for her beloved in his cell and, finally, his release, and Don Andrès commands that the formal presentation, so dramatically spoiled that morning, be made without incident that evening at his ceremonial dinner. Piquillo, however, is still inclined to tantrums, even when Périchole points out that she, at least, knew whom she was marrying when she agreed to accept him whilst he was so drunk he didn't know or care whom he was getting. And, after all, have they not become man and wife without spending four piastres? Did he not read her letter in which she promised that she would remain virtuous in the house of the Viceroy? Piquillo's arguments fritter away into silly, vain little considerations and, finally, Périchole convinces him to make the required presentation.
If Piquillo is unhappy about the situation, the court is even more so. At the ceremonial serving of his dinner, Don Andrès finds all his food either snatched away under pretence of protocol or else rendered inedible; he finds his jokes unappreciated and his courtiers unflattering until, realising that this is an attempt to freeze him out of his passion for Périchole, he reacts vengefully and effectively by cutting everybody's stipend. Fawning returns at an unprecedented level in time for the presentation of the new Marquise but, once again, the presentation is barely in line with custom.
Piquillo and Périchole present a duet. It is their own
story and, in its course, Périchole
returns to Don Andrès all the jewels and money he has given her.
The end of the tale tells how the singer and her beloved gave back all
the gifts they had accepted and went back to their old lives and their
old love. Their story affects Don Andrès with its sincerity and
its renunciation of wealth for love and, when it is finished, he sentimentally
bids them go their way, taking the money and jewels with them. They are
rich and they are married and it didn't even cost four piastres!
Synopsis of Scenes
A public square.
A hall in the Viceroy's palace.
Scene 1: The Dungeon of Recalcitrant Husbands
Scene 2: A public square
7 female, 8 male plus 2 small male character-parts in Act One only
La Périchole - (Coloratura Soprano)
Paquillo - (Tenor (or High Baritone))
Don Andres de Rebeira, Viceroy of Pent - (Baritone)
Don Pedro de Hinoyoso, Governor of Peru - (Baritone)
The Count of Pantellas, First Gentleman of the Bedchamber - (Tenor)
The Marquis de Tarapote, Lord Chancellor - (Spoken)
First Notary - (Tenor)
Second Notary - (Tenor or Baritone)
The Old Prisoner - (Tenor)
The Turnkey - (Spoken)
Guadalena, (Soprano), Estrella (Soprano), Virginella (Mezzo-soprano) - The Three Cousins
Brambilla, Ninetta, Manuelita, Frasquinella - The Ladies in Waiting - (Soprani and Mezzo Soprani)
Courtiers, Dragoons, Grenadiers and People
Adaptation by John Grimsey, Phil Park and Ronald Hanmer for amateur performance = Vocal Score available on hire only
flute, oboe, 2 clarinets, bassoon, 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, percussion, harp, strings