Orpheus in the Underworld

Adelaide Festival Theatre. 25 Aug 2012

On all levels this is production of Jacques Offenbach’s comic operetta Orpheus in the Underworld is must see production.  If you are into operetta – see it.  If you are only opera-curious – see it!  If you are into musicals – see it!  If you are into satirical risqué comedy – see it!  If you are into spectacular costumes and colour and special effects and great singing and toe tapping melodic music and excellent acting and belly laughs and pure joyous entertainment – see it.  Have I said ‘see it’ enough times yet?

This production of Orpheus is a revival of the version created for the Australian Opera in 2003.  It preserves much of Offenbach’s original four-act version of 1873, but it also has a freshness to it and is immediately relevant to today’s audience.  The current version has been honed by the multi-talented Jonathan Biggins, who also directed the current production, Philip Scott and our very own State Opera supremo Timothy Sexton, who also conducted the performance and was chorus master. (Phew!!  State Opera is getting its money’s worth out if him!).  The result is a slick and gloriously irreverent production that revels in sending up Australian contemporary culture.  There are highly amusing tongue-in-cheek references to Pauline Hanson, Malcolm Fraser, BBQs, live animal exports, Australian wine, Louie the Fly and Mortein, and the list goes on.  Seemingly every opportunity has been taken to let us laugh at ourselves, which Saturday night’s audience did in bucket loads.

The plot is straightforward:  Euridyce, who is completely underwhelmed by her musician/composer husband Orpheus (who is not all that fond of her either), is having an affair with Aristaeus, the local shepherd, who in fact turns out to be Pluto, the God of the Underworld.  Pluto and Euridyce conspire for her to be bitten by a deadly snake, and then to be carried off by Pluto to live with him in ‘hellish delight for ever amen’.  Orpheus is not at all unhappy with this outcome but outraged neighbours and public opinion insist that he seeks redress from Jupiter, Lord of the Gods.  Jupiter, who is also a rake, decides to visit the underworld and on pretext of returning her to Orpheus plots to take Euridyce for himself.  In the end, Jupiter wins out and everyone descends into debauchery and excess.

Elizabeth Campbell was imperious as Public Opinion.  As Euridyce, Amelia Farrugia was sufficiently sexy and tartish – just what was needed.  Adam Goodburn made a welcome return to a substantial role and had a hair-raising time as Orpheus.  Catriona Barr, Joanna McWaters and Sally-Anne Russell were all seductively appealing as Venus, Cupid and Juno.  Andrew Collins was suitably threatening as Mars, and Mark Oates was almost scene stealing as John Styx.  Stephen Smith relished the stage props he used as Mercury, and Douglas McNicol was outstanding as Jupiter.  For sheer vocal force and strength of characterisation, honours go to David Hobson in the dual role of Aristaeus/Pluto.

The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra was well balanced and tightly controlled by Sexton – a perfect accompaniment to the cast.  Mark Thompson’s original scenery and costume design was first rate – from the corrugated iron, ironically Australian, rainwater tank to the ultra large Rococo nude paintings, the lush backdrops and the character driven costumes.  Amber Hobson’s choreography is unobtrusive and sufficiently straightforward (seemingly!) to allow the characters to extract the humour from their roles.  The three judges were hilarious.  John Rayment’s lighting complemented everything!  Even though the performance was sung in English, surtitles were used which assisted the audiences understanding of the text – especially the many and frequent modernisms!

Full marks!  What a wonderfully joyous and hilarious piece of theatre.  The season has less than one week to run – don’t miss it!

Kym Clayton

When: 25 Aug to 1 Sep
Where: Adelaide Festival Theatre
Bookings: bass.net.au


Photography by Photografeo Pty Ltd