Orpheus abbreviated

Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld is an opera which holds a special place in my heart.

It is the first complete opera I saw: from upstairs in the Verbrugghen hall at the Conservatorium – I think put on by “Young Opera” or its precursor.

A couple of years later, when I won a competition for a musical composition run by the last-legs version of “The Argonauts,” my prize was the first record I ever owned: a recording of highlights from the Sadlers Wells production starring June Bronhill as Eurydice and a heap of other Australians.

After “Orpheus,” and partly courtesy of the succeeding Young Opera productions of La Belle Helene, La Vie Parisienne and La Perichole, all of which I saw at the Cell Block Theatre in the old Darlinghurst Gaol, I developed something of an Offenbach enthusiasm. I borrowed the vocal scores from the City of Sydney Library (then in the QVB: I would stop off on the way home and mostly leave when the library closed and resume my train journey home to West Pymble, tired and thirsty) and play and sing them through at home. Later I went to Macquarie University library on the weekends and hunted down, in their strange Library of Congress system, reel-to-reel recordings of American Public Radio performances.

I was a nerd.

I can’t say that, when I encountered La Perichole when it was put on by the Australian Opera many years later, that it quite lived up to my recollections. But I enjoyed, despite its imperfections, the 2003 production of Orpheus put on by Opera Australia. I’d say I enjoyed it more than many did, judging from the critical response by those appointed to make it.

As I’ve said more than once, I found particularly charming the scooter riding “love police” – a trio of boys (surely a nod to The Magic Flute?) who featured in the second half. I don’t think they featured in the 1968 version I first saw.

Now that production, revised, after a few outings in other states, has been revised. D and I are going next week.

Clive Paget has given it a pretty comprehensive review in Limelight. The love police don’t get a mention.

In The Australian, Murray Black says:

Unfortunately, the original 2003 version of this production missed the mark, being dominated by awkward Ockerisms, tedious dialogue and an over-indulgent high-camp aesthetic.

Thankfully, for this revival, Jonathan Biggins and Phillip Scott have significantly revised their performing version. It’s shorter and more focused, recapturing the spirit of the original while ensuring it is both relevant and heaps of fun.

My guess: the Love Police have got the chop. I suspect convenience/expedience as much as any dramatic considerations. Working with children is always such a nuisance for the opera. Children need to be supervised/chaperoned, etc, etc. Artistically I will allow that the love police were probably more fun if you were sitting close, as I do, since there is a perennial projection problem for child singers.

If so, I shall miss them.

Update next week.

4 Responses to “Orpheus abbreviated”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Thanks for heads up. Just booked.

  2. marcellous Says:

    Wanderer: microphone alert! (It’s “operetta.”) And Harriett Cunningham wasn’t so keen on Todd McK as Pluto in the SMH review. I hope I haven’t led you astray.

  3. wanderer Says:

    Not at all. I booked for the laughs and it is reasonable value for money. Don’t go till today week.

  4. Orpheus revived | Stumbling on melons Says:

    […] Saturday, as foreshadowed, with D to OA’s production of […]

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