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“Orpheus in the Underworld” – premiere/new arrangement
"Orpheus in the Underworld" - premiere/new arrangement at Volksoper in Vienna.
Full house at Volksoper in Vienna on Saturday evening, the 21st of January, at the premiere of "Orpheus in the Underworld" (original Orphée aux enfers) by Jacques Offenbach! The composer named the score "comic opera" (opérabouffon) - however, today he is considered to be the father of the French operetta - and the huge success it had at the world premiere in 1858, on the stage of "Bouffes-Parisiens", was repeated with every new arrangement, all over the world, till today. The proof? The applause and cheers which rewarded the show at Volksoper, I am glad to be able to talk about it and if you visit the Austrian capital, Iadvise you not to miss it.
During the last 10 years I had the chance of following the activity of this famous Viennese institution and I can say, well-informed, that the progress of the ensemble is indeed spectacular. I wrote, over time, many laudatory reviews for shows like "Kiss me, Kate" (2012), "Vivaldi and the four seasons, a BaRock opera" (2018), "King Carrot", also written by Offenbach (2019) or Cabaret (2022), but all of my expectations were exceeded by the new production with "Orpheus in the Underworld"! But, before commenting further upon the performance, because this work is almost missing from the Romanian stages, I want to give my reader a few brief pieces of information about the story which yes, starts with the ancient myth of Orpheus but then moves far away from it.
In the Prologue (adapted of course), Jacques Offenbach himself comes back to Vienna to attend the premiere of the most well-known and loved comic operas of his: "Orpheus in the Underworld". The composer is shocked and outraged that his statue is not in the city, alongside those of Mozart, Beethoven or Johann Strauss-the son, but consoles himself with the idea that his work will be performed on the stage of the famous Vienna State Opera. The confusion brings, of course, laughter from the audience that Offenbach perceives, delighted, as a tribute to him and his creation. Suddenly, to everyone's dismay, the composer decides to get involved in the show.
In the first act, we meet Eurydice, Orpheus' whimsical and bored wife, with him being a violin professor at a school in the city of Teba. Eurydice has an affair with Aristaeus, the shepherd, who is in fact Pluto, the God of the Underworld, in disguise. Eurydice tells Orpheus that she wants to file for a divorce and he, after severely punishing her by performing one of his compositions for violin, succeeds in hiding a venomous snake inside a basket which will later bite his wife. Eurydice dies and accompanies Pluto on the way to the Underworld. Orpheus is content, but Public Opinion appears and asks him to leave for Olympus where he'll meet Jupiter, the God of all Gods, and will ask for Eurydice to be brought back to life.
Life in Olympus is not as easy as everyone thinks. After many outings on Earth, gods are sleeping on fluffy, soft clouds. They are awoken by Diana's desperate screams, she can't find her lover, Actaeon, whom Jupiter turned into a deer. Juno, Jupiter's wife finds out that someone kidnapped the beautiful Eurydice and immediately put the blame on her husband, well-known by everyone for his extramarital love affairs. He vehemently denies it! It is true, Mercury brings the news that Pluto is the kidnapper.The wrongdoer is immediately brought to judgment, but he, cunning as ever, appears accompanied by a crowd of cooks who offer tempting dishes to the gods.Fed up with their usual food, nectar and ambrosia, the gods unite in a furious riot in which all the blame is directed at Jupiter, portrayed as a deeply immoral character.
Public Opinion appears accompanied by Orpheus, who, not very determined, asks for his wife back. Delighted at the prospect of meeting the beautiful Eurydice, Jupiter assures him that he will personally go to the Underworld to settle the matter. He would like to go alone but, intrigued, all the gods want to accompany him.
In the Underworld, Eurydice is getting bored in a sumptuous boudoir, just like she does in the meadows on Earth. She meets John Styx, the three-headed dog who guards the entrance to the Underworld but she's not very impressed. Jupiter asks Pluto, who denies all charges, to prove his innocence before the Underworld tribunal. Then, with Cupid's help, Jupiter turns into a fly and tries to seduce Eurydice. He has a long history of turning into things for the sake of love: he had been a golden rain for Europe and a swan for Leda. Eurydice is convinced by the fly - Jupiter and they both plan an escape from the Underworld.
Pluto holds a Dionysian feast where everyone has a great time and Eurydice herself performs a much-appreciated number in which she appears as a bacchante. Public Opinion and Orpheus also arrive at the party, which of course also includes can-can. Under pressure from Public Opinion, Jupiter consents to Eurydice following her husband back to Earth, on the condition that, until they reach the light, the husband must not look back at the wife who, supposedly, is following him. The two set off but, by a deliberate mistake, Jupiter throws a bolt of lightning and the frightened Orpheus looks back. What will happen next? The curtain falls down over the known but unspoken answer.
In his "Orpheus in the Underworld", Offenbach created a vivid satire of a society in which nothing is what it seems to be - marriages fail out of boredom, gods descend among the mortals and have fun, the Underworld is more entertaining, in terms of parties and food, than the Olympus… Public Opinion seems to be trying to restore the order but, actually, it doesn't succeed in doing so.The performance atVolksoper was directed by Toby Park and Aitor Basauri, a famous English couple, part of the Spymonkey ensemble. Julian Crouch joined them, an experienced, extravagant and very inspired scenographer and costume designer - I would also add a designer, book illustrator, writer and musician, collaborator of the famous La Scala and MET opera houses and award winner for "the Adams Family show" on Broadway/New York! Everything that happens on the stage is amazing. Each character, soloist or member of the ensemble is individually thought out in the smallest details of behavior, expressiveness, clothing, gestures... I think I can say that the performance follows the model of a theatrical play in a theatrical play, because the movements are emphasized and the naturalness of the game is not a sought-after goal, in itself. Clowning and acrobatics are ever presenttools and - amazingly! - within everyone's reach. The artists' response to all these challenges is impeccable! I was informed that this show was intensively worked on for a year and a half. Everyone is intensely singing, playing and living every moment, every note of Offenbach's score, which is wonderful and extremely attractive for a stage representation. The outcome? A delightful show whose memory pleases you and urges you to see it again.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QEQQ7S9QBpo Orpheus in the Underworld Trailer
Orpheus in the Underworld
Music - Jacques Offenbach
Libretto - Hector Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy
Conductor - Alexander Joel
Scenography and costume design - Julian Crouch
Choreography - Gail Skrela
Pluto (Aristeus) - Timothy Fallon
Jupiter - Marco Di Sapia
Orpheus - Daniel Kluge
Hans Styx - Sebastian Matt
Mercury - Jakob Semotan
Eurydice - Hedwig Ritter
Juno - Ursula Pfitzner
Diana - Jaye Simmons
Cupid - Juliette Khalil
Minerva - Susanne Gschwendtner
Mars - Aaron Pendleton
Venus - Katia Ledoux
Public Opinion - Ruth Brauer-Kvam
Jacques Offenbach - Marcel Mohab
Choir and Orchestra of the Vienna Volksoper
Translated by Cristina-Bianca Ion,
University of Bucharest, Faculty of Foreign Languages and Literatures, MTTLC, year II
Corrected by Silvia Petrescu