Saturday Opera: The Day The Parrot Died!

Offenbach's charming operetta 'Vert-Vert' in a new recording from Opera Rara(Photo: Opera Rara/Bibliotheque National de France)
Offenbach's charming operetta 'Vert-Vert' in a new recording from Opera Rara(Photo: Opera Rara/Bibliotheque National de France)

Classical 101′s Saturday afternoon opera broadcasts continue this weekend with a new recording (okay, the only recording) of Offenbach’s delightful operetta, Vert-Vert.

Opera and death. Soap and water. Corned beef and cabbage. They go together.

Whether it’s poison, beheading, burning (expensive to stage these days) drowning, death in opera affords ravishing and dramatic finales – usually for soprano.

The only death in Jacques Offenbach’s opera-bouffe Vert-Vert is that of the title character and it comes atypically at the beginning of the work.

Tenor? Soprano? Nope.

Vert-Vert (Green-Green) is the name of a parrot, the beloved pet at a convent school outside Paris.

The ladies mourn and cry and sing at the death of their darling mascot. The only solution to their grief is to find a replacement.

Enter Valentin, a rather hapless young man who lives near the convent. He’ll do. He’s to be petted and kissed and fussed over. Not a bad life.

There are dragoons who vault over the convent walls. There are plenty of secret marriages and drunken, horny villagers. Dancing girls? Check.

Vert-Vert is a dramatic mashed potato that’s devilish good fun. It’s been ignored for years. (Offenbach wrote 98 operettas). Opera Rara has just published the first recording of Vert-Vert’s. There’s not a French singer in the cast but its still a honey.

Jacques Offenbach (1819-18810) was a German, born in Frankfurt, the son of a cantor. He arrived in Paris in time for the Franco-Prussian War. Within a few years he was king of the Parisian musical theater.

Vert-Vert may have been a stop along the way, but it ran for a few times at the Opera-comique. I suspect that with 98 such works the composer forgot all about half of them. Opera Rara remembers and give us all a naughty good time.

  • JT

    Your “Bio” of Offenbach contains a staggering number of errors for a single, short paragraph. He died in 1880 not 1881, was not known for having “little personal charm”, learned French as an adolescent, and anti-German riots of the Franco-Prussian War never occured.

    All that and Vert-Vert saw a few performances in Paris in 1869 & has never ben performed there since, not for four years (which would have had it on stage right thru the 1870 war!).