“Orphee Aux Enfers” At Iford Festival: An Enjoyable Romp

Operetta Research Center
24 July, 2015

The UK based company Opera della Luna has just presented their version of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the Iford Festival, and received some excellent reviews for it.

Opera della Luna's "Orpheus in the Underword" 2015. (Photo: OdL)

Hail, Jupiter: Opera della Luna’s “Orpheus in the Underword” 2015. (Photo: OdL)

Rupert Christiansen in The Telegraph calls it a “thoroughly jolly” performance, “executed with tremendous verve”: “I’ve never had a eureka! moment with Jacques Offenbach’s operettas. My loss I’m sure, but I can’t help feeling that once you’ve skimmed away the sweet musical froth, there’s nothing much left – not even the dregs of Victorian prejudice and inhibition that make his imitators Gilbert and Sullivan so fascinating. Yet abetted by the seductively beautiful environment of Iford’s cloister and garden near Bath, the Opera della Luna company has almost broken my block – I certainly can’t think of any performance of Orpheus in the Underworld that I’ve ever enjoyed as much as this rumbustious, unpretentious and thoroughly jolly version, executed with tremendous verve and a welcome absence of gratuitous vulgarity.”

Suzanne Shakespeare as the extravagantly trilling Euridice. (Photo: OdL)

Suzanne Shakespeare as the extravagantly trilling Euridice. (Photo: OdL)

On course, “vulgarity” was what sold this operetta when it originally came out, but it was a special kind of “vulgarity.” The Guardian comments: “This is a piece that needs a nicely outrageous take and, in Jeff Clarke’s new Opera della Luna production for Iford Arts, it gets it. His translation takes the liberties satire demands: contemporary, clever, cheeky. And for the character who wrongfoots the audience at the outset, introducing herself as ‘Public Opinion’ – David Pountney’s ENO production styled her as Margaret Thatcher, and Scottish Opera had a Melanie Phillips – Clarke is more mischievous again, making her an arts council assessor, box-ticking with a vengeance, dictating that composer Orpheus abandon his violin concerto for opera. John Styx, Savile Row slimeball butler to Pluto, explains that he was consigned to hell for taking Greece into the euro.”

The Olympians in their travel outfits: "Orpheus in the Underworld" by Opera della Luna. (Photo: OdL)

The Olympians in their travel outfits: “Orpheus in the Underworld” by Opera della Luna. (Photo: OdL)

About the musical side of things, Rian Evans writes: “Toby Purser’s briskly energetic conducting that carried the evening. The restoration of some of Offenbach’s original ballet music meant that Jenny Arnold’s choreography – flamboyantly realised by four dancers – got more of the action here, giving a better context for the gods’ final kneesup and the can-can. Purser rightly took that famous passage at a hell of a gallop.”

Discussing the cast, The Fine Times Records writes: “There are the usual OdL bravura performances from a company chosen not only for its vocal excellence and brio but for acting to Jeff Clarke’s own inimitable requirements.

It’s never subtle, but goodness it’s hilarious. In a production that includes intrusive sheep, a golden zimmer frame, an exploding well, the essential Greek-myth wings, revealing body suits and lots of highly coloured hair, it would be easy for the performers to get lost.

Not so Ian Belsey, back in Iford as Jupiter, or the creepy Paul Featherstone straight out of the Munsters, or the devilish Carl Sanderson, or Suzanne Shakespeare as the extravagantly trilling Euridice, or indeed Katharine Taylor-Jones, whose straight-laced politically correct Public Opinion starts with a nod to Bryn Truffle.”

Scenes from a marriage: the duett from act 1 of "Orpheus in the Underworld." (Photo: OdL)

Scenes from a marriage: the duett from act 1 of “Orpheus in the Underworld.” (Photo: OdL)

In short, this appears to be a fabulous Offenbach outing at the Iford Festival. One that chooses a different approach to the genre then – let’s say – the Ohio Light Opera in Wooster, also in full swing right now. You can catch the Opera della Luna production again in September, at The Lowry in Manchester (Salford), from the 23rd to the 26th.

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