Operetta and Perfume
by John Axelrod©2017
There are so many operettas in the repertoire that it is hard to define the genre. Some people adore the popular songs and stars of operetta, others dismiss operetta as petite opera, as compared to grand. Some people see Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffmann and Bernstein’s Candide as operettas, despite their grandeur. Others define Kalman and Lehar as being misunderstood and undervalued for the quality of their compositions. Just as Korngold, Rosza and Steiner gave birth to the Hollywood sound, one can also argue that Johann Strauss II and Gilbert & Sullivan helped originate musical theater. Comparing the financial profits of both cinema and broadway as compared to opera, it may be that the critics of operetta are simply jealous of its profit and popularity and enduring legacy.
What is singular about operetta is not simply the simple melodies or charming orchestrations and sitcom stories set to song, but is the ease in which it can be experienced. This is music not intended to cause a headache, but to tickle and titillate the senses. It brings to mind the differences between wines. Some are mass produced and cheap and available in grocery stores, but there are also those like some deeper expensive wines with heavy tannins that can cause quite a headache. There are some Bordeaux wines that smell more of minerals than of fruit, just as there are wines in boxes that have so much added sugar that the headache feels like an energy drink. Since operetta can be a light and lovely pleasure, so too there are wines that do not aspire to anything more than to provide the perfume that the fruit itself can create in the bottle. There are some wines that provide a bouquet and taste that actually can win awards. It is a unique idea, a formula that eliminates one aspect of classic wine making: Fermentation in the oak barrel. Yet Villa Parens does just that.
Since 1967, Villa Parens is synonymous with the enjoyment of elegant drinking without the headache. Here is the motto: “You are responsible for choosing; we are responsible for impressing you.” As their own literature says: “The Puiatti Family, with their Maison Villa Parens, continues a long tradition of conquests, leaderships and innovations. As pioneers of a Purist Philosophy based on essentiality and purity, they decreed the Puiatti Method electing it an authentic and synonymous way of elegance and simplicity. Because of its novelty and uniqueness, this is an epoch-making change in the universe of the aesthetics of the wine world, which expresses and enhances history, territory, taste and contemporary pleasure in an inimitable supreme balance.”
Impressive words, indeed. But what about the wine? The impression is the bouquet. Without the fermentation process in oak barrels, the wine does not develop tannins. Instead, Villa Parens, for all their varietals, from chardonnay, to sauvignon blanc, to pinot nero, the taste is subtle, the alcohol content no more than 12.5% and the fruit is fresh without lingering on the tongue. What is the incentive then? The smell is intoxicating. It is not only the fruit, but the secret formulas of aromatics added that help to create an immediate impact. In the same way a perfume can be the source of seduction, so too can the smell of the wine be the inspiration to drink. That may be the inverse of most classic wines, that may have a corked or tannic bouquet but the essence is in the taste. Villa Parens has pioneered the way to create the essence of the wine through its smell.
That is also true of operetta. Whereas opera requires more complicated subjects, and more than often deals with death and betrayal, the lightness of operetta, with its happy endings, its exotic characters of nobility or peasantry and its imaginary lands allow for its own immediacy.
The next time you happen to be at a performance of Johann Strauss II’s Eine Nacht in Venedig, for me one of the great operettas, enjoy a coup du blanc de blanc of Villa Parens. Take a deep breath in, smell the bountiful beauty, sip the sparkle, and then sit back and let your senses be seduced by story and song.