Orpheus revived

On Saturday, as foreshadowed, with D to OA’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld.

It was jolly fun if a bit unrefined.

Immediately before the show began there was an announcement that Adrian Keating would be leading the orchestra, rather than the billed Catalin Ungureanu. Perhaps he was a late substitute. It did sound that way in his big violin solo in Orpheus’s duet with Eurydice.

The satire of Pauline Hanson as Public Opinion is getting a bit long in the tooth despite her recent flash in the daily pan, but it is always a pleasure to see Suzanne Johnston.

The amplification, doubtless appreciated further back, was anything but “light” (as Clive Paget had characterised it in Limelight Magazine). At one point when the stage was crowded I couldn’t work out who was singing at all (turned out it was Cupid, somewhere near the back.)

The love police were still there but are now trench-coated adult detectives rather than the kepi-sporting lads on scooters, and the substitution took something of the sweetness away from this section. Funnily enough, posters at the Opera House and Opera Australia’s calendar still feature the original concept, with Cupid as a big baby and the boys as his offsiders.

Rachelle Durkin was great as Eurydice. She always seems a bit crazy and is one of those singers who can almost not avoid being comical (Warwick Fyfe is another). And she can sing.

Todd McKenney as Pluto features as the lead image on OA’s publicity. He’s incongruous in the show by reason of his popular singing style (which requires even more miking). He dances a lot and well to make up for it, but presumably OA have featured him because they expect him to sell tickets – people have seen him on the telly. It’s depressing, really.

I would have preferred David Hobson, who took the part in Adelaide last year and in Sydney in 2003.

Back to the question of “unrefined.” OA have a tradition of this – when it’s comic they turn the switch to ocker. We all know it’s funny. Generally it is at the expense of charm and often also of musical execution. Mock pastoral and mock pathos are two of the casualties: Aristeus’s song in Act I, for example, and John Styx’s in Act II. (Something similar happened to “Time was when love and I were well acquainted” in Patience a few years ago.) Why can’t Styx’s song be sung more like this? Or even here?

Sparkle and sweetness are hard to carry off. I thought we got more beer than champagne last night. No point telling me the bubbles are really the same.

Still, most people seem to have had a good time, and even I enjoyed it over all.

PS: ENO production with Public Opinion a la Margaret Thatcher here. John Styx’s number at 48:50 (he wants Eurydice to spank him – an invention of that production, I think); Cupid and love police at 50:40 leading to the very charming “kiss” waltz at 52:55.

PPS: selection of images from production put up by OA on Youtube. Presumably taken from the dress rehearsal, though ensemble 9-10 seconds in wasn’t much different when I heard it on Sat. New-look love police feature at 30 seconds in.

PPS: from Opera Australia’s blog, belatedly noticed:

“Besides reworking the libretto, with help from Thompson and conductor Andrew Greene, Biggins also trimmed the show into a shorter and lighter version of the 2003 production. The children’s chorus was one of the things that went. “Unlike in Bohème, where they’re an essential part of the plot, in Orpheus the children don’t  serve a particular purpose. So instead of having them appear as Cupid’s love police in the second act, we got four gentlemen from the chorus dressed up as identical Inspector Clouseau, which was funnier, sharper and briefer, and which made the point.”

Losing the chorus also took care of the problem of children not being allowed in the Green Room at the same time as half the cast. “The costumes are rather lewd and suggestive, which meant that in 2003 the children had be hidden in their dressing rooms with their chaperones,” Biggins says.”

3 Responses to “Orpheus revived”

  1. wanderer Says:

    Didn’t go back after interval. I know, I know ….

  2. marcellous Says:

    Presume you were tired. Second half has the best bits (fly duet; kiss waltz; bacchanale) – is that what the “I know I know” is anticipating?

  3. wanderer Says:

    Yes, that and anything else along the lines of ‘well, you were warned’. Although I wasn’t that tired, I had decided to drive to the bush after the show, and on balance couldn’t stomach another hour of audio fatigue, which is what I was suffering in D stalls thanks to the (at times very) loud amplification. It was like a blaring radio I wanted to turn off.

    I agree with just about everything you say above. Suzanne Johnston was the high bar. The rest of it was all a bit tired, and the gimmicks kinda worked but kinda didn’t. Stalls about 80% sold, maybe more. Young woman in wheel chair had to taken out nearly hysterical after first round of fireworks. It seemed like a show that was slipping through the gap between two audiences: regular (serious, whatever that means) opera goers, and a popular musical crowd. I suppose it is running now as resources are channelled to Carmen, but it seemed like a December/January show to me, a Christmas panto thing almost.

    I’m not sorry I went, but enough was enough. K, incidentally, thought the amplification not too bad.

    Robert Gard was there, looking amazing.

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