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.
Sunday afternoon, February 14th, we went to Vogel Hall at the Marcus Center for the recital by the Florentine Opera Studio Artists, “Vienna, City of My Dreams.” This was the Florentine’s second Valentine’s day concert showcasing their young artists, Ariana Douglas, soprano; Katherine Fili, mezzo-soprano; Thomas Leighton, tenor; and Leroy Y. Davis, baritone. Accompaniment was provided by Ruben Piiranen, piano, and Barry Paul Clark, double bass. Florentine Opera General Director Willam Florescu was the genial host.

This concert had “Vienna” as a theme, and started off with the title song, “Wein, Du Stadt Meiner Träume,” by Rudolf Siecynski. This was followed by “Sull’aria”, from Le Nozze di Figaro, by Mozart, a duet for the ladies; and by “Non ti fidar, o misera,” from Mozart’s Don Giovanni. Next up was a piece new to us, “Sonett für Wein” by Erich Korngold, whom I had only known of as a film score composer, beautifully sung by Ms. Fili.
Then, we heard the classic love song, “Dein ist mien ganzes Herz,” by Franz Lehar, which Mr. Leighton did a lovely job with. The first half ended with two pieces from Die Fledermaus, “The Watch Duet,” sung charmingly by Ms. Douglas and Mr. Leighton, and “Bruderlein und Schwesterlein,” by the full ensemble.

After intermission, the concert resumed with “Wochenend und Sonneschein” (literally, “Weekend and Sunshine,”) an arrangement of the “Happy Days Are Here Again” tune with new German lyrics. This was by a group called the Comedian Harmonists, that were popular in Germany in the 20’s and early 30’s.

This was followed by another classic of the genre, “Meine Lippen, sie küssen so heiß,” also by Lehar from his operetta Giuditta, sung very fetchingly by Ms. Douglas, and then another rarity, “Florenz hat schöne Frauen,” by Franz von Suppé, from his operetta Boccaccio, or the Prince of Palermo, which was a duet by Ms. Fili and Mr. Davis.

Davis then soloed on “Frühlingstraum (Dream of Springtime)” from Franz Schubert’s Winterreise. I must admit that “art songs” are far from my favorite musical genre, but Mr. Davis sang so beautifully that I quite enjoyed it.

The ensemble wrapped up with “Sag beim abschied ‘Servus’” , by Hilm, Lengsfelder, and Kreuder; “The Merry Widow Waltz,” by Lehar, “Edelweiss” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, and “Auf Wiederseh’n, My Dear,” by Hoffman, Goodheart, Ager and Nelson.

Besides the beautiful music, the concert included interest for the eye as well. The ladies’ gowns were provided by the “Dress for Success” project, which endowed the dresses made by designer Timothy Westbrook. In the first half, Ms. Douglas wore a simply cut gown in off-white satin, which had interest added by layers and swags of differently textured fabrics. This contrasted strikingly with the lush wine-colored gown given to Ms. Fili, which was decorated with sequins and fabric roses at the bust and hip.

The second act gowns were not as successful. Abstract artist Pamela Anderson created some colorful and striking paintings for the stage setting, and designs of hers were also used on fabric for these dresses. Ms. Douglas got a simple black top with a full skirt painted with bold color blocks, which wasn’t bad. However, Ms. Fili’s white gown had a long train embellished with random splotches of green that gave it an unfortunate resemblance to the painter’s drop cloth.
This was a beautiful and romantic concert, extremely well sung and entertainingly presented.
Although the Steampunk Picnic ran until well into the evening, we excused ourselves a bit earlier in order to get to another event, the Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices "A Night in Vienna" concert, which was held at the Sunset Playhouse in Elm Grove that night.

We were interested in this performance because two of our friends, Tori Campenni and Emory Churness, belong to the chorus, and because we particularly like operetta, which was the theme of this evening's performance.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Voices is oriented a bit differently than some other choral groups in that it seems to emphasize showcasing soloists, who are mainly voice students or aspiring professionals, with the chorus chiefly as backup. At least, that's how this performance worked out.

The performance was divided into two 'acts', each one commenced with a solo by veteran artist Geraint Wilkes, who was also a co-producer of the show. He began with "Vienna, City of My Dreams," by Rudolf Sieczyński, which well set the theme for the evening.

The first segment was pieces from Johann Strauss, Jr.'s "A Night in Venice", a piece we've never seen performed. However, the tune to "When You're In Love" was very familiar and I suspect it has been exerpted as a stand-alone waltz as well. The chorus opened the segment with "There Is Gaiety in Venice," and did very nicely, as they did with the closing piece, "The Party of the Year."

The second segment was excerpts from Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld," with which we are very familiar. Eurydice's song, "A Nymph in Love" was a rather curious choice since it isn't a very exciting song, but soloist Angela Lombardi delivered it very prettily. The chorus was appropriately rousing on "To Arms!". The "Fly Duet," wherein Jove is seducing Eurydice, was one of the highlights of the evening, being not oly very well sung, but engagingly acted by Susan Weidmeyer and and Bryan Elsesser. the chorus took back over for the "Hades Chorus" and the whole company got involved for "Infernal Galop" (the famous "Can-Can") with some pretty good dancing on display.

After the intermission, Mr. Wilkes lead off again with "Goodbye" from "The White Horse Inn". The next segment was from Franz Lehar's "The Merry Widow," and included very nice renditions of "So Many Men Admire Me," "You'll Find Me at Maxim's," "Vilia", and the "Merry Widow Waltz."

Next up was a more rarely done piece, "The Land of Smiles", also by Lehar, with its unusual setting partly in China. The chorus got a workout on "One More Ball," and "Waltz While You May," while a number of different soloists took parts on "That's When the Nightingales Sing," "You Are My Heart's Delight," (the most familiar tune from this show), and "Love, What Has Given You This Magic Power?"

The concert was rounded out by going back to Strauss for selections from "Die Fledermaus," with the cast giving nice renditions of "Chacon a Son Gout," "Mein Herr Marquis (Adele's Laughing Song)" and "What a Feast/Champagne is an Inspiration," which became the evening's grand finale.

I must admit that the finale and curtain call disappointed me a bit: the soloists got their appropriate bows, but then the chorus members got almost half-way through their one exclusive bow before the director/conductor, Trefor Williams, waved the soloists back on stage for additional bows, which I thought rather shabby. Also, although in my book getting the audience to clap along with your exit music does not constitute an ovation justifying an additional curtain call, that's how it was treated, which seemed to me to be excessively self-congratulatory. However, it was all done with good humor and obvious enjoyment and the audience played along.

Overall, a nicely done concert of music we enjoy. There were a lot of young voices among the soloists who did not quite have the full power the material requires (operetta is a lot harder than most people think--), but very creditable and tuneful singing all around. The chorus supported the soloists enthusiastically, sang well, and did little bits of acting to underscore the action.

The Sunset Playhouse is a nice little venue, and it is likely we would consider attending another performance by this group depending on the program.
On Sunday the 5th, we went to the Broadway Theatre Center downtown for the Skylight’s production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s “H.M.S. Pinafore.” G&S operettas are part of the Skylight’s roots, and they did honor to their background with this production.

The curtain opened on a beautiful set depicting the midships main deck and quarterdeck of the “Pinafore”, which was rather fancifully designed, but worked very well for the production. The Pinafore sailors opened the show with “We Sail the Ocean Blue” in what turned out to be the show’s most ambitious dance number. The sailors accompanied themselves percussively with mop handles in a fashion informed by the STOMP phenomenon. Much of the rest of the choreography for the show isn’t so much dancing as moving/clowning to the music, but that’s appropriate for G&S and works well in this production. Gary Biggle as Sir Joseph Porter looked very well in the role and lead the clowning on such numbers as “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore” with such panache that one overlooked the utter silliness of introducing conga/Macarena moves to the general frivolity.

All of the performers sang well, especially Alicia Berneche as Josephine, Captain Corcoran’s daughter, who has a truly operatic voice. I also liked the fact that Robb Smith as Dick Deadeye sang out strongly and clearly, without attempting to affect any kind of Robert Newton/Long John Silver growl, as I have heard some performers do. Other performances I particularly enjoyed were John Muriello as Corcoran, and Rhonda Rae Busch as Hebe, the leader of Sir Joseph’s “sisters, cousins, and aunts.” There were some fun bits added, such as the raucous crow call that always greeted the pronunciation of the name “Dick Deadeye”, which I think may be a reference to the recent production of “Young Frankenstein” and the “Frau Blucher” gag; and the way in which Sir Joseph and Captain Corcoran dealt with the seemingly interminable encores to “Never Mind the Why and Wherefore,” a custom I personally find obnoxious.

There was not a lot of emotional depth to this production, the emphasis being on the light, fast and funny, but that was more than good enough. It was a very enjoyable afternoon of the old G&S.
The Saturday evening Bardic coincidentally fell on the same weekend as the opening of the Florentine Opera’s season, with “The Merry Widow,” by Franz Lehar. We had a our usual tickets for the Sunday matinee, and got to the Performing Arts Center in good time after a delicious lunch at “Chez Jacques,” a newish restaurant on the South Side that specializes in light French fare: crepes, sandwiches, and charcutrie. (I have had their deluxe pate’ plate, and it was splendid.)

This production was one of the most gorgeous the Florentine has mounted recently. The sets and costumes were rented from the Utah Symphony & Opera and looked smashing. The sets were handsome and evocative, and the costumes were particularly nice. In the first act, which is the Embassy Ball celebrating the birthday of the monarch of Pontevedra, the men are all in formal dress, white tie with decorations, and all the women are in wonderfully elegant black and white ensembles, except for Hanna, the “Merry Widow,” whose outfit is entirely a glorious red. For the second act, a party in the garden of Hanna’s house, the cast wears variations of “Pontevedran national costume,” with emphasis on shades of amethyst and aquamarine. For the third act, Hanna’s engagement celebration, the men are back to formal wear, with the scene enlivened by women’s more colorful evening gowns and the Maxim’s chorus girls.

The plot is a classic operetta theme, used as well in “Czardas Princess” and others: Nobleman (“Count Danilo”, Philip Cutlip) loves commoner woman (“Hanna Glawari”, Diane Alexander) but cannot marry her due to class barriers. She goes off and has experiences that make her an acceptable mate, in Hanna’s case, marrying and then outliving Pontevedra’s richest man. Danilo would not marry her for her money, but is commanded to win her by royal decree, since allowing her fortune to go out of Pontevedra if she took a new foreign husband would bankrupt the country. Since the story is set in Paris, Danilo not only has to overcome his own reticence, but outwit the swarm of impoverished French noblemen who lack his scruples. Being France, there is also a farcical subplot involving the wives of the Embassy staff, notably the Ambassador’s spouse, Valencienne (Heather Buck), and some of these same Frenchmen.

The story works out with a lot of good humor, lush music, and (in this case) adequate dancing. There was, to our ears, flawless singing by all the cast, well supported by the orchestra under the direction of Mark D. Flint, who is a new guest conductor for the Florentine. Kudos to stage director Albert Sherman for a very enjoyable and sparkling show.



August 2017

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