When Madeleine Smith was in kindergarten at Bethesda Montessori School, she got her first acting role as Mary in a Christmas production. Now, many years later, that same Bethesda Presbyterian Church stage is the site of rehearsals for her first directing gig.
The Victorian Lyric Opera Company (VLOC), a Rockville-based community theater company founded in 1978, will present six performances of Jacques Offenbach’s “La Périchole” during two weekends at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre in Rockville. The French comic opera premiered in 1868 in Paris. VLOC’s production will be performed in English and accompanied by a 25-piece orchestra and 30-plus member chorus.
After completing high school, Smith began took on various roles with the company, including acting and assisting the director in 10 productions. Upon her graduation from the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, VLOC members asked her to come back to direct a show.
Acting had always been Smith’s passion. When she was not cast in a production, she assisted the director just to be a part of it. One of those directors suggested she consider leading a future show. “(The director) noticed in me a talent for this that I had not really been paying attention to,” she said. After pondering the idea, she concluded, “I have a lot of thoughts about a lot of shows and I can’t make some other director use my ideas so I guess I have to do it myself.” She followed through last spring by submitting a proposal for “La Périchole,” and was selected as director.
The operetta focuses on the relationship between a pair of street singers–La Périchole and Piquillo–who love each other, but are too poor to marry. Don Andrès de Ribeira, the foul Viceroy of Peru, falls in love with La Périchole and wants to make her his mistress, yet all his ladies-in-waiting need a husband. Piquillo is chosen for the job.
“I think Offenbach is always this crazy, really bubbly riot in most of his operettas,” Smith said. “He picks ridiculous storylines that make absolutely no sense with riotously fun music to sing and listen to. It is just delightful. It is like drinking champagne seeing one of these operettas.”
“It’s a show with a lot of heart,” she continued. “It is a bunch of people getting into a lot of trouble unexpectedly and getting themselves out of it in the most hilarious way possible. It’s a love story and an adventure, and everybody loves that.”
Written in the mid-1800s, Smith felt the script was not as gender-equal and progressive as she would have liked, so she spent a month rewriting it to give the female lead more agency and power over her own fate. “I wanted everybody in the show to be on equal footing more or less,” she said. “…I wanted something that a 2017 audience could relate to. I wanted a woman that didn’t seem a victim of her circumstances, but rather a master of her own universe.”
Emma Jensen takes on the title role. She has done at least three shows at VLOC in the past. “I just love the community that VLOC offers,” Jensen said. “It is a family when we get there. Sometimes you can go away for a year and come back and everyone still remembers who you are, and it is just a lot of fun to work with the people.”
Always musically inclined, her first acting job was in the Columbia, Md.’s Drama Learning Center summer production of “The Wizard of Oz” where she played a lollipop kid. “I love to (be on stage),” Jensen said. “It is a rush. I don’t play sports so this my way of getting my adrenaline rush.”
Smith said Jensen is lovely to work with and has a beautiful singing voice. “She has this natural Disney princess quality so you are immediately on her side when you see her in this show,” Smith said. “You are immediately warmed to her and you want to root for her. She (also) has these delightful refreshing moments of scrappiness.”
VLOC’s Artistic and Musical Director Joseph Sorge researches shows and comes to the board of directors every fall with his ideas for the coming season. He chose “La Périchole” because it is one of Offenbach’s bubbliest operettas. “This is one of my favorites,” he said. “It’s really a fun show.”
Less than two weeks before the show’s opening, Sorge gathered the chorus and orchestra together for a sitzprobe–German for a seated rehearsal–through all the show’s music. “Hearing this glorious full sound with all the instruments playing and the smiles on their faces–it just makes it all worth it,” he said.
The Victorian Lyric Opera Company will perform “La Périchole” at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 and 25 and March 3 and 4and at 2 p.m. Feb. 26 and March 5 at the F. Scott Fitzgerald Theatre, Rockville Civic Center Park, 603 Edmonston Drive, Rockville. For tickets–$28, $24 for seniors, and $20 for students–call 240-314-8690 or visit www.vloc.org. View this event on CultureSpotMC here.