Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld

Opera Holland Park

Kensington, London, 28 June 2009 3 stars

Opera Holland ParkThis was my second visit to Opera Holland Park and I liked the venue just as much as on the first occasion. I cannot think of a more pleasant surrounding for an opera performance.

But OHP's production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld did not delight as much as their outstanding Hansel and Gretel.

One problem was caused by casting. Although Jeni Bern was outstanding as Eurydice and Nicola Stonehouse (as Diana) projected well, some of the female principal singers had almost no voice at all.

The male solo parts were better cast. Although he did not appear to be as tyrannical as the words in the libretto suggest, veteran Ian Caddy delivered the role of Jupiter with humour, taste, clear diction and impeccable musicality. Indeed, for me, his duet (in his Jupiter disguise as a fly) with Jeni Bern was the highlight of the evening.    

All the other male parts were performed well but only Daniel Broad (as Pluto) was memorable, on account of his impressive athletic dancing. However, I also appreciated the strong rhythm in the performance of Oliver White (as Mercury).

Conductor John Owen Edwards kept proceedings under control but he seemed more laid back than keen to show whatever beauty there is in Offenbach's score. It is open to question whether the choice of Offenbach's 1858 original version was a wise (or economical?) choice. Arguably the composer might have preferred one of his later revised versions.

Full marks to Jenny Weston for her witty and musical choreography. The section for Pluto and his team was particularly brilliant. I was also amazed by the chorus' ability to sing while delivering complicated steps, even jumps.

There were some nice directorial touches, such as the conductor wearing a hellish red jacket and the orchestra wearing pink Pluto ears for the second half of the show (which, as per the libretto, is in the underworld). The space on the small stage was well utilised and the use of the auditorium at the beginning of each half of the show created some intimacy. However, I did not understand the humour in the deliberate German accent of some of the theatrical characters in director Tom Hawkes' Hollywood update. The language of the original libretto is French, but here we had an English version by Jeremy Sams delivered with occasional deliberate German accents. Confused (as I was)?           

If you are looking for a pleasant and entertaining evening out, I recommend this production. If you are looking for sublime art, give this show a miss.

By Agnes Kory

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