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Young buskers in love

Offenbach's Peruvian getaway

Caitlin McKechney (Périchole) and Piquillo (Marcus Shelton) star in La Périchole. Photo credit: Peter Serko

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The musical Once, a hit four months ago at Broadway Center, features a charismatic, young street musician who falls in love, only to face seemingly insurmountable romantic competition. That's a fair description of Jacques Offenbach's La Périchole, the next Tacoma Opera production, except this time the romantic triangle takes a comic spin into the wheelhouse of Gilbert and Sullivan. Offenbach, a 19th-century composer born in Germany but trained in Paris from the age of 14, was in fact an influence on Arthur Sullivan, who appeared to pay tribute to Offenbach in works like The Mikado.

As did Gilbert and Sullivan, Offenbach draws inspiration from exotic foreign cultures, in this case the lively streets of Peru. Even Francophiles may be forgiven for some confusion about the title. La Périchole isn't performed nearly as often as Offenbach's unfinished Tales of Hoffmann, and the nickname Périchole doesn't appear in French-English dictionaries. "There's no really direct translation," admits Noel Karan, general director of Tacoma Opera, who pronounces Périchole with a hard ch. "In the show, the main character is called Périchole, and it is my understanding that it means ‘Songbird,'" said Koran. It's a stage name, in other words, like Gaga or St. Vincent, and doesn't have to mean anything. It's the name of a chanteuse starving for her art - we mean that literally - in unforgiving Lima. Now imagine an equally impoverished young man, Piquillo, who loves Périchole and wants nothing more than to find her a good meal and the cash to afford a marriage license. Not for nothing is one of Périchole's arias called "Ah! quel diner!" For those who don't speak French, that may as well mean "Food, Glorious Food."

Actually, those who don't speak French will have no problem with catching the show at the Rialto, as it's presented in a faithful English translation by Filip Kraus. The Tacoma Opera production is helmed by veteran director Christopher Nardine (Die Fledermaus, Seattle Gilbert & Sullivan Society). "Offenbach has added a bunch of boleros and seguidillas and galops," said Koran, referring to unusual musical instruments, "that are representative of Latin American music."

"The Viceroy of Peru runs across Périchole and falls in love with her," explained Koran, "and gets her a position as a lady-in-waiting in his court - and also, most importantly, lots of food." That leaves Piquillo in the cold. "The viceroy finds out there's a law that any lady-in-waiting in his court has to be married." It's a romantic complication that almost finds happy resolution in Act I, but of course there's an unlikely misunderstanding so the viceroy stands pat on his acute angle of the romantic triangle. "It's a full staging with colorful costumes," said Koran. "It's a very lively production. The characters are marvelous, wacky and eccentric ... not to mention Offenbach's tuneful and wonderful melodies."

LA PÉRICHOLE, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 29 and Friday, May 5; 2 p.m., Sunday, May 7, Tacoma Opera, Rialto Theater, 310 S. 9th St., Tacoma, $25-$85, 253.591.5894

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