Apr. 11th, 2017

On Friday evening, we went to the Zelazo Center on the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Campus to their production of “La Perichole,” an opera buffa by Jacques Offenbach. We had enjoyed the University’s production of Offenbach’s “Orpheus in Hell,” and so were interested to see how this one would turn out.

I was rather surprised to see that the very slender plot was adapted from a comic play by Prosper Merimee. Merimee is best known to English speakers as the author of the story that became Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” notorious for being dark, violent, and tragic. “La Perichole,” by contrast is light and funny.

The original play and opera were set in Peru, and the “heavy” was the Spanish Viceroy, supported by his minions, the “First Gentleman of the Bedchamber” and the “Mayor of Lima.” The updated script played by the University is set in 1990’s Hollywood, with “Mr. Viceroy” (Jason Martin) as “CEO of NBC”, and being abetted in his schemes by the “VP of NBC External Affairs” (Austin Jermaine Bare), and the “Mayor of South Hollywood” (Joseph Krohlow). At a birthday party at the “Three Cousins” club, Viceroy encounters the talented but unlucky street singers, the beautiful Perichole (Laura Lemanski) and her swain, Pequillo (Emanuel Camacho). They have been trying to get enough money to get married, with no success. In fact, Pequillo is so bad at “passing the hat,” that they are on the verge of starvation. Pequillo goes off on his own to try his luck further, while Perichole stays behind and tries to sleep to forget her hunger.

She is approached by Viceroy, who offers to “employ” her as an Executive Administrative Assistant at NBC. She has no illusions as to what the deal actually is, but reluctantly agrees, hoping to string Viceroy along at least for a few good meals. She leave a good-by letter for Pequillo at the Three Cousins.

When Viceroy announces his conquest to the VP and the Mayor, they are appalled that he would hire a single woman with no qualifications. The Board of Directors would not stand for it. Relying on an entertainment industry standby, nepotism, they propose that it will work if she were married to an NBC shareholder. Viceroy directs the VP to find a man that they can marry to Perichole and make a director.

Pequillo returns to the Three Cousins, and gets Perichole’s letter. Despondent, he decides to attempt suicide, but is tripped over by the VP, who realizes that he’s found someone poor and desperate enough for anything. He plies Pequillo with liquor, getting him “blind-drunk”. Pequillo goes through with the wedding, having no idea who it is he’s marrying.

In the next scene, Pequillo wakes up in NBC Headquarters with no recollection of how he got there. He is reminded that he got married last night, but not to whom. He is treated with scorn by the NBC staff, of whom the women think of him as pimping his wife to Viceroy, and whom the men perceive as a “kept man.” The VP and the Mayor are more sanguine, advising him that “husband of Viceroy’s mistress” a.k.a. “Assistant to the Assistant Manager for Gender Affairs” is one of the best jobs at NBC, other than their own, having few duties and access to lots of money. Pequillo doesn’t care, he just wants the thousand dollars he was promised and to be allowed to leave. They agree, but insist that first he has to “introduce” his wife to Viceroy at a reception that evening.

When Perichole arrives at the reception and Pequillo realizes that she is the wife he is to turn over to Viceroy, he flies into a rage and denounces her as heartless anand mercenary. At Viceroy’s order, Pequillo is subdued and thrown into a subterranean dungeon.

In the dungeon, Pequillo meets the “Old Prisoner” (Sam Skogstad), who has spent twelve years tunneling out of his cell with a penknife, only to arrive in Pequillo’s cell. Undaunted, the rather mad old man offers to free Pequillo also, assuring him it will only take another twelve years digging through the correct wall this time.

Perichole comes to visit. After considerable recrimination by Pequillo, she lets him know that, not only has she not surrendered her body to Viceroy, she loves Pequillo, and has absconded with the jewelry Viceroy gave her, in order to buy his freedom. She attempt to bribe the guard with a diamond ring, only to find that it is Viceroy in disguise. He locks Perichole in the cell with Pequillo, saying he hopes she will change her mind. After he has left, the Old Prisoner enters and frees them from their chains. Then Perichole calls Viceroy back. The three of them overpower him, lock him up, and flee.

In the final scene, the fugitives are hiding out at the Three Cousins while Viceroy’s minions scour the town for them. While Viceroy is interrogating the cousins, Perichole and Pequillo come out of hiding and beg for their freedom with a song praising the virtue of forgiveness. Moved, Viceroy forgives them, and allows them to keep the jewels (“I am not accustomed to taking back gifts—“). All celebrate the couple’s courage and Mr. Viceroy’s clemency.

We enjoyed this production very much. Between Offenbach’s music, in which the composer employed Spanish-derived themes and dances; the English libretto by Kalmus and Daniel Pippin, Colleen Brooks, and James Zager, much of which was in rhymed couplets; and the ‘topsy-turvy’ plot, the performance had an almost Gilbert and Sullivan feel, which made it quite accessible.

Ms. Lemanski as Perichole, exhibited a lovely, warm, rich, voice which worked very well for the role and the music. Mr. Camacho (Pequillo) has a beautiful but light voice that was hard to pick out of the ensemble pieces, but he has a gift for comic acting that helped get his role across. Jason Martin as Viceroy acted and sang a wonderfully heedless and egotistical “heavy.” They were well supported by the rest of the cast who sang, danced, and acted with what must honestly be reported as varying degrees of skill, but it was all good fun for the audience.

Costumes were pretty obviously scrounged from the actor’s closets, but worked well enough. The modular set by Leroy Stoner looked good and worked cleverly. Jun Kim conducted the orchestra, which handled Offenbach’s score expertly and supported the singers excellently.

We were interested to see that the director was Colleen Brooks, whose performances we had enjoyed in the Skylight Opera Theater’s The Snow Dragon. It was obvious that she has a good grasp of the light opera genre and a clear vision for the production.


Apr. 11th, 2017 05:33 pm
On Saturday, April 8th, we went to the Milwaukee School of Engineering for Concinnity 17, the campus’ annual one-day gathering for science-fiction, anime, cosplay, and gaming fandom. Held on two floors of the Campus Center building, this was a nice little gathering. The commons area on the third floor was used for dealers, and we were pleased to see friends Julie Ann Hunter, Terresa Roden, Emily “Dragonwielder” Schultz, and Karen Pauli having tables. We checked out all the tables, chatted with some new acquaintances, and attended Lee Schneider’s panel on “Nudging History” and Chris Madsen’s talk about his book, “The Eyes of the Setting Sun.” We didn’t stay for any of the anime or the gaming, which ran into the evening, but had a very nice time.

We’ve usually missed Concinnity due to being on the same weekend as OddCon, but that didn’t happen this year, so we were glad to have a chance to check it out.
On Sunday afternoon, April 9th, we went to the Marcus Center for the Milwaukee Ballet’s program.
This included a new ballet, “Sans Pleurer” (“Without Crying”), which was a new one-act ballet for male dancers by Timothy O’Donnell. The ballet explores the “boys don’t cry” idea, and the difficulties men have expressing feelings.

The ballet, which depicts a man’s inner life, begins with a young boy dressed in a school uniform, sitting downstage, crying. An adult dancer comes down to him, makes him stand up, put on his school jacket, and ushers him off. He is gradually joined by other dancers who may or may not all be aspects of his personality manifest. The dances in pairs, trios, or larger groups express anger, aggression, depression, and other emotions, generally all done in uniformity. From time to time, on or the other dancer would fall out, or break ranks, often by taking off the jacket, leaving them literally baring souls, as they are shirtless under the jackets. One of the impressive parts of the ballet was the number of subtle but firm ways in which the “deviants” were corrected, and made to put the jackets back on and join back in the dance. As the dance goes on, it becomes more agitated, until there is a general casting off of jackets. The central figure, muffling his face in the coat, weeps madly, while all the others rush to surround him. Whether they are at the last supporting him, or restraining him, is left to the viewer.

We found “Sans Pleurer” both aesthetically and emotionally powerful. The Ballet’s male dancers exhibited not only power, strength, and skill, but also grace and fluidity not often called for in male roles. The evocation of male emotion was cleverly done. Some bits involved dancing with boxes, which we dubbed “mental blocks” or perhaps the boxes one put ones feelings in. It appeared that the dancers had no choice but to lug them around, like Marley’s Ghost and his strongboxes: if a box was laid down, it had to be picked up again; no one would take, or show interest in, someone else’s box.

In the notes, the choreographer’s question was posed: “Why are men raised to suppress their emotions?” We had a couple of answers. It’s not just received culture, but that is a factor. After all, strong admirable men like the characters played by John Wayne, Gary Cooper or Humphrey Bogart don’t cry. James Bond doesn’t cry. Neither do John McClane, Indiana Jones, Dominic Toretto, or any other hero you can name.

But there’s more to it than that. The culture of youth is full of shallow cruelty. If you are teased or bullied, and you cry, you will be mocked. If you rage, you will be mocked. If you laugh, you will be mocked, insult added to injury. And if you fight back, verbally or physically, you will be roughed up, bully being careful to be sure of physical superiority, injury added to insult. Therefore, the safest path is to be inscrutable. It doesn’t save you from bullying, but gives them the fewest levers. Some of us learned this from direct experience. The bullies, their sycophants, and the “better you than me” bystanders from observation.

Well, you can see the piece was thought-provoking--.

The music by Ezio Bosso was actually musical, evocative, and listenable. Conductor Andrews Sills got a big, exciting sound from the small ensemble used for this piece.

La Sylphide

I had not seen “La Sylphide,” which is one of the famous pieces of the classical ballet repertoire, live, so was very interested to see how Milwaukee Ballet would handle it. In this case, they engaged the services of Dinna Bjorn as Repetiteur, who is one of the recognized specialists on the ballets of choreographer August Bournonville. Together, everyone did a lovely job.

The Sunday performance had Nicole Teague-Howell as La Sylphide, Randy Crespo as James, Jonathan Batista as Gurn, and Rachel Malehorn as Madge the witch. All of the dancers were excellent. We thought that Ms. Teague-Howell could have been more expressive in the first act, but she warmed up in the second act and made her role quite affecting. The big wedding dance number in the first act was the most intricate version of this scene we have seen, and very beautiful. Rachel Malehorn, in her final role for the Milwaukee Ballet, did a fine chewy acting job as the witch. Andrews Sill and the Ballet Orchestra gave a fine rendition of the dramatic score by Herman Severin Lovenskjold. Costumes provided by the Boston Ballet were very pretty and plausible-looking. All in all, a very enjoyable and satisfying performance.

Moral 1: Don’t be rude to the local witch.
Moral 2: If you are rude to the local witch, don’t expect her to actually help you later.



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