Spymonkey’s first foray into operetta had its premiere on Saturday. The reviews have been like nothing we’ve ever experienced.
WIENER ZEITUNG 22 Jan 2023
“A triumph of comedy… This is how operetta is played: racy, dust-free, modern and colourful – grandiose entertainment of the highest standard. A pure joy!”
[DeepL translation below]
CERBERUS’S PERFECTLY FORMED BUSINESS
The Volksoper succeeds in a triumph of comedy: This is how operetta is played!
A place where the sheep dance, even after they’ve been shorn! Where London Bobbies whistle the cancan on their pipes. Where Cerberus does a perfectly formed do-do. And Jupiter, transformed into a fly, is at least as attracted to Hellhound’s legacy as he is to Eurydice. The British comedy duo Spymonkey, consisting of Toby Park and Aitor Basauri, stage Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld at the Volksoper: a triumph of laughter. On top of that, and nowadays considered by all too many critics to be only a secondary thing, the singing and music are brilliant. It is pure joy!
Honestly? – Orpheus in the Underworld, like all Offenbach operettas, can drag on. The allusions are out of date, and for all the brilliance of individual musical ideas, the music can seem formulaic. What happens when satire is transposed to present day is demonstrated by the current production at Theater an der Wien – and not at all favourably.
At the Volksoper, however, everything functions ideally. Because the Spymonkey directorial duo has decided not to stuff “Orpheus in the Underworld” with provincial pseudo-relevance, but to play it essentially as the operetta was written. It is precisely the character of Jacques Offenbach that they invent for this purpose, who, in his vain search for his statue, staggers through the action and gets on everyone’s nerves – except the audience, who are thrilled by Marcel Mohab’s comedic performance. It is rare to hear such loud laughter in an opera house.
This direction is simply brilliant, full of imagination that reveals itself in little things, full of bizarre ideas and gags that only comedians of the British Benny Hill and Rowan Atkinson tradition can invent. And how nice: nothing, absolutely nothing is detracted from the piece as a result. Offenbach’s “Orpheus” may remain Offenbach’s “Orpheus”, a musical theatre of pleasure, of wit, of winking frivolity.
Julian Crouch has created the most intelligent stage design and perfect costumes for this: The two-dimensionality of the scenery is a common thread – it all looks splendid and trashy at the same time, colourful and rich in detail, it offers the eye a rollercoaster ride of impressions.
This is exactly how operetta should be played: racy, dust-free, modern and colourful as grandiose entertainment theatre of the highest standard.
And what about the musical realisation! As I said: “Orpheus” can drag on. But not when Alexander Joel is at the podium. He drives the brilliantly disposed orchestra forward, the trombones are allowed to puff up with bass power, the woodwinds add highlights, the strings revel in unimagined nuances. Orpheus” is seldom so delicate and at the same time so brisk.
Hedwig Ritter plays Eurydice with a soaring radiance that is breathtaking! And she is a real comedienne!
Everyone sings and plays brilliantly: Daniel Kluge as tenor-melting Orpheus, Timothy Fallon, a Pluto with heroic metal in his voice as his tenor counterpart, Marco Di Sapia as a desperate Jupiter, who cuts the best figure as baritone and fly, Sebastian Matt as adorably pathetic Hans Styx, who, sucking on the Lethe water, has major memory lapses. Ruth Brauer-Kvam is a joy as Public Opinion!
In general: the whole ensemble is simply perfect, right down to the smallest supporting role. The choreography by Gail Skrela is ravishing, the Vienna State Ballet can shine here, both as sheep and as bacchants in the Can-Can.
With bass drum, cymbals, trombone and underworld tempo, not to say hellish speed, the cancan gets the audience’s legs tapping and they are applauded in a way you don’t experience every day. A house has collectively shouted bravo. And Offenbach has his monument in Vienna: namely this performance.