Friday, March 8, 2013

ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD

 
Todd McKenney as Pluto
Operetta by Jacques Offenbach
Libretto by Hector Cremieux and Ludovic Halevy
in a new performing version by Jonathan Biggins and
Phillip Scott from a condept by Ignatious Jones.
Conductor: Andrew Greene
Director:    Jonathan Biggins
Designer:   Mark Thomson
Lighting Design: John Rayment
Choreographer: Amber Hobson


Opera Australia,
Sydney Opera House until 27th March 2013

Reviewed by Bill Stephens


Thank heavens for surtitles! Not because the singers didn’t sing clearly enough, but without them we would have missed many of Phil Scott’s brilliant gunshot-fast gags. A lethal combination, director, Jonathan Biggins, and writer Phil Scott, both best known for their annual Wharf Revues, have taken to Jacques Offenbach’s mad romp and, with the enthusiastic participation of a very game cast, have come up with a production which is delightfully silly, lavish, campy, cheeky, occasionally tacky, but most of all great fun. It is also one which brilliantly captures the essence and intent of the original in the way that it satirises current political figures, media and morality.

The performance gets off to a great start with conductor Andrew Greene, resplendent in red velvet jacket, setting a brisk beat for the orchestra for what surely must be one of the loveliest operetta overtures. However, the overture is rudely interrupted by Public Opinion, Suzanne Johnston, delightfully authoritive, as the guardian of morality and good taste.
Rachelle Durkin (Eurydice) Andrew Brunsdon (Orpheus)
Everyone seems to be having way too much fun, certainly in Arcadian Thebes, where we first meet musician, Orpheus (Andrew Brunsdon) and his strung-out wife Eurydice (Rachelle Durkin). Eurydice seems more interested in running off the shepherd next door than in Orpheus’s latest composition.
 
 
 
 
 
 
Rachelle Durkin (Eurydice) Todd McKenney (Pluto)



















 It turns out that that shepherd is really the god Pluto, (Todd McKenney, revealed in a marvellous on-stage transformation). As Pluto, Todd McKenney looked and sounded great in his heavily muscled black leather breastplate and silver codpiece, however on opening night, he seemed not to have decided on how to play the character, vacillating between campy and heroic, and dropping character altogether when he joined the line-up for the energetic can-can towards the end.

Rachel Durkin is a gorgeous Eurydice. She tackled the singing challenges brilliantly, and gave such a wickedly clever comic performance that she almost stole the show. Andrew Brunsdon, with more than a touch of the Elvis Presley’s, clearly relished the comedic possibilities of his role as Orpheus, while Mitchell Butell as the green and decomposing John Styx, complete with blow-flies circling his head, made a big impression in a smallish role.
Mitchell Butell (John Styx) Rachelle Durkin (Eurydice)

As well as the brilliant script, this production is packed with plenty of satisfying vocal performances, as well as marvellous visual moments, among them Mercury’s entrance,  (Stephen Smith flown in on a jet propelled motor-bike) and Eurydice’s bathtub seduction by Jupiter (Christopher Hillier disguised as a blowfly).
Sian Pendry (Venus), Jane Ede (Diana), Christopher Hillier (Jupiter)
Katherine Wiles (Cupid), Victoria Lambourn (Juno)

Opera buffs may find it all a little too trivial, but then hasn’t “Orpheus in the Underworld” always been trivial? And how often is it that you spend a night at the opera which keeps you chuckling for days afterwards?

Todd McKenney (Pluto) Mitchell Butell (John Styx)

(All photos by Lisa Tomasetti)

 

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