The Tavern and the
Offenbach's La Péricole takes place
in Lima Peru. The curtain rises on a main square. The tavern is
on one side, in front of which are tables and chairs. A crowd
of patrons is drinking boisterously, served by the three cousins
themselves: Guadalena, Berginella, and Mastrilla.
Our modern conceptions of substance
abuse makes this opera totally incorrect politically. The
first act contains a series of incidents in which alcoholic
beverages are poured into characters to get them to do things
they would not do sober. The crowd is given free drinks so
as to applaud the Viceroy on his name-day, Piquillo is got drunk
so that he agrees to marry an unknown woman who needs a husband
(his girl friend La Péricole, of course) , La Péricole herself
is given food and drink to buy her acquiescence to the role of -
ahem - court favourite, and the notaries are given much liquor
to procure their cooperation in the enterprise.
The Tavern Review
The ladies who run the Three Cousins
Tavern are very upfront about their business plan. They are to
sell the highest possible amount of low cost booze to men in the
mood for lots of liquor served by good looking women. We have
those sorts of places today. As Mastrilla says, 'When they are
young and pretty, you never can tell what three women are
capable of, with a bit of energy'.
The clientele seems to consist
mostly of wine drinkers of indiscriminate taste. There is not
much of a food menu. When La Péricole sings her Ah! Quel
Diner song, she is referring to a dinner at the Viceroy's house,
not the tavern (although I suppose a stage director may
choose otherwise). On the other hand, the notaries can usually
be assumed to have got their drinks at the tavern. They tell us
what they had: 'That sherry was very old . . . The Malaga was
better . . . What did you think of the Madeira? . . . A rough
wine, my friend . . . The alicante was very dry . . . I had
biscuits with it . . . And the port was first rate! . . . Yes,
but it didn't agree with me.'
How Does the Tavern
fit into the Opera
Anyone who takes Offenbach seriously
is missing the point. The Three Cousins Tavern is merely here to
provide a place where the characters can get tipsy enough to get
into trouble, and from which they will eventually disentangle
themselves back at the tavern in the final scene.
It is great fun, however. La
Péricole is a fun opera about people having fun with life. The
Three Cousins Tavern is the physical place that sets the upbeat
mood permeating the entire work.
The Spanish viceroy of Peru has
decided upon a street singer to be his court favourite (wink,
nudge!). Being impoverished and starving, La Péricole agrees to
everything. After a good meal, however, with much fine wine,
she feels much better. As she veers unsteadily from the dining
room, she sings of the experience.
'What a wonderful meal' she tells
us, 'and what excellent wines. I drank so much that I think I'm
a bit muzzy. If you see me zigzagging about or notice that my
speech is slurred, pretend not to notice.'
It would be a brave theatre manager
who would create this one today. Think about it! Sexual
exploitation, degradation of women, and trivialization of
substance abuse are treated as central parts of an
entertainment. On the other hand, exactly parallel
considerations faced Offenbach in the Paris of the 1860's. In
fact, Offenbach made his fortune by being a bit 'racy' and by
'pushing the envelope' of his times. The spectacle of a woman
with a snootful being portrayed on stage in public must have
upset much of the 'correct' establishment.
It is, in fact, just this ability to
tiptoe the line between good taste and vulgarity that has
assured the success of Offenbach operas over the decades. An
expressive singer with a good comic touch will send home the
audience chuckling and happy. Tomorrow they can return to the
overriding social concerns of the day.