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DVO’s La Perichole

on stage at SCCC

By TOM KANE

LOCH SHELDRAKE, NY — Whenever I can, I try to avoid reviewing any production on opening night but in the case of the Delaware Valley Opera’s (DVO) first production of the season, “La Perichole” by Jacques Offenbach, my schedule—and the publication date of this paper—allowed me no choice.

Having been a performer for this very company for a number years, I used to dread a reviewer showing his face on opening night. Apart from the dress rehearsal, this is the first time a company puts the entire production together before an audience: singers, orchestra, sets, lighting, sound, stage crew, etc. Sometimes as a performer, you fear that the opening night performance will completely fall apart during the second act. (One opening night the set fell down behind me during my aria—in the second act.)

At the occasion of this season’s opening night, Saturday, July 14, the production was staged on the capacious Seelig Theatre at Sullivan County Community College (SCCC), which is perhaps the roomiest stage in the county, a far cry from the minuscule Tusten Theatre stage in Narrowsburg.

Apart from a few awkward moments when someone was expected on stage and didn’t emerge exactly on cue from the wings, the production went on without a hitch—at least, without any I could detect.

With an absolute minimum of scenery and properties on a nearly bare stage, the plot materialized around the wonderful score that has been created by this gifted French composer who created the operetta form.

Offenbach wrote about 100 operettas, and didn’t create his most famous full-length opera, “The Tales of Hoffman,” until the very end of his life. In fact, it had to be completed by a friend.

The DVO’s production of this operetta delighted the audience at the college. The main reason, although not the only one, was the tour-de-force performance of the soprano who played La Perichole, Julie Ziavras. She had the required coquettishness of a soprano in a buffo production like this one, the figure, the beauty, the charm and the panache, but she had more than that. She had a commanding voice and an energetic presence on stage.

“La Perichole” is a piece of delightful froth about two young street singers/lovers—La Perichole and Paquillo—that contains all the buffo elements of the operetta convention: sparkly music, folk dancing, a drunken bacchanal, mistaken identity, a lecherous baritone official with designs on the soprano (how many baritone roles demand lecherous designs on the soprano?), two young lovers who are separated only to be wonderfully united in the end, with all crimes and misdemeanors forgiven.

Ziavras was supported by a small coterie of singers with more than adequate voices. Osualdo Chicchetti, playing Paquillo, is a tenor with an impressive range and vocal stamina but needs a touch of the required bravado for the role of the lover. Be that as it may, he sang the role well, with a special accolade to his role as a drunk who sings on pitch, despite the wine.

The lecherous baritone viceroy, Don Andres, was played with a smooth, rich vocal style by Eric Barsness, no stranger to the DVO company. Steve Utzig was efficient both dramatically and vocally as the courtier Don Pedro.

Three innkeepers, owners of the Three Cousins, a Peruvian waterhole (the operetta is set in Peru for some reason), who provide the occasion for the unfolding of the plot, were also no strangers to the company: Carol Diefenbach (a memorable “Carmen” from a past DVO production), Susan Conroy and Susan Thompson, both stellar members of numerous DVO choruses. Other members of the chorus alumnae were Eileen Ledwith and Kim Heller Eschenbirg.

It’s good that the company—Gloria Krause, director Jim Blanton and the DVO board—has returned to the tradition of having the singers come from the local area, filling the roles of principals, minor characters and chorus. The resourceful and musically effective orchestra also had some alumni and alumnae of past DVO productions, including Josh Siegel, the oboist, and percussionist Therman Barker.

All in all, you’ll enjoy “La Perichole,” which still has four more dates at the Tusten Theatre and one more at the college. Two more musical presentations will be staged by the company this summer: “Norma,” a dramatic opera in Italian with English subtitles by Vincenzo Bellini, and a pastiche of Victor Herbert and Sigmund Romberg’s best-loved tunes called “Naughty Operetta,” also at the Tusten Theatre and SCCC.

For information, dates, times and tickets, call the DVO at 845/252-7272 and at the college at 845/434-5750, ext. 4303.