Home | Reviews | Articles | Festivals | Competitions | Other | Contact Us

Orpheus in the Underworld

Offenbach himself was really nowhere!

Nicholas Sharratt Eurydice Jane Harrington [pictured below]
Public Opinion
Máire Flavin Jupiter Brendan Collins Diana Daire Halpin Pluto/Aristaeus Gavan Ring John Styx/Mars Ross McInroy Venus/Cupid Marie Claire Breen Juno Olivia Ray Mercury Christopher Diffey

Scottish Opera/Northern Ireland Opera joint production

Direction Oliver Mears `
Design Simon Holdsworth
Light Kevin Treacy
Movement Director Anna Morrissey
Head of Music Derek Clark
Music Direction/Pianist Ruth Wilkinson

The Young Vic, London - 30 November 2011

Crémieux/Halévy/Offenbach's 1858 musical satire of Napoleon III's Paris, a tale of an unhappily married Orpheus' journey to the underworld, has been updated for a 24-venues tour of Northern Ireland and to the remotest corners of Scotland.

Rory Bremner
[L] has transformed it into a populist show for today about and for our media-savvy, sex & celebrity obsessed society (participants in TV's Strictly Come Dancing were spotted by people around me in the Young Vic's first-night audience!).

The characters progress from one ridiculous scenario to the next, replete with the crudest simulated copulations and a backdrop with a huge anus which was marked "censored" by the on stage narrator Public Opinion.

The London audience (sold out for the whole fortnight's season) appeared delighted and laughed at all Bremner's jokes, given extra topicality with the 30th November Press Night coinciding withThe Great Strike!*

The stage direction was good, with variety in the sets and often amusing characterisations. The singing was adequate, with Brendan Collins' Jupiter outstanding; it was good also to catch up with one of our contributors amongst the cast !

The show culminated with the famous 'cancan', which needs the traditional costumes and was a flop because of the evening's musical limitations. Offenbach himself was really nowhere!

The pianist who accompanied the evening on an upright piano played all the notes on the page before her competently, but with no flair or imagination whatsoever. **
Why didn't the Head of Music commission something better than what seemed to be a simplified piano reduction, perhaps Weinberger's intended for amateur Operatic Societies ??

Chamber versions of opera in small venues can be fully satisfying with reduced orchestrations if those are tackled with a will; the colleges are training pianists of huge ability, able to extemporise and enhance given piano scores, as used to be common practice.

Peter Grahame Woolf

*Scottish Opera and Northern Ireland Opera revels in the slapstick, doggerel, innuendo, puns and damning political commentary
of Rory Bremner's update of Offenbach's operetta. - - The 1858 original was a sendup of high-society scandals in the second French empire; Bremner has simply stuck to the spirit of the script by picking on today's bankers, phone hackers, gossip magazines, classical music snobs, rightwing opinion columnists, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, not to mention the entire Greek nation. [The Guardian]

** Recent examples of good practice have been Opera Up Close's La Bohème at the Cock in Kilburn "Andrew Charity conducts from the piano with genuine sensitivity throughout - a runaway success extended for a third month"; Opera at Home's Mozart in Greenwich with the 'orchestra' reduced to violin and piano (an electric upright with convincing registrations) with remarkable success;
and Stephen Crowe's Opera at Dalston with "an extraordinarily apposite piano score, brilliantly played centre stage - I do hope that the final version will not expand the work with orchestral accompaniment."

- - lightly mordant operetta utterly ruined by a clod-footed production - accompanying on piano, MD Ruth Wilkinson was a little timid...[This is London] Bremner’s surprisingly unsubtle libretto - - this work’s bewitching charm was never going to take wing when supported, as here, by just a piano plus an off-stage violin- - crude direction - plus a script that ran out of ideas half way through - made one glad to escape [Evening Standard]