There is none of the mythical world of earlier settings in Offenbach’s work. In his Orpheus in the Underworld, first performed in 1858 in the Parisian theatre of the “Bouffes-Parisiens”, we experience Orpheus as a bored music teacher and Eurydice as his wife who is annoyed by him. When Eurydice goes to hell, nothing could please her husband more! But public opinion compels Orpheus to reclaim his wife from Jupiter, the father of the gods. Bored with nectar and ambrosia, the whole family of gods joins Orpheus on his way to the underworld. In Offenbach’s work, which is considered the first operetta in history, one can laugh about dreary marriages as well as about screwed-up gods and a party-addicted underworld.
This comedic masterpiece is directed by Spymonkey, UK’s leading company for physical comedy. Orpheus in the Underworld marks the group’s first production at an opera house. “Orpheus in the Underworld is a perfect fit for our comedic signature,” says Toby Park, one of the artistic directors. “As a parody of antiquity and a travesty of myth, the play presents a world that everyone knows and intelligently turns it on its head. That’s exactly how our performative language and form of comedy work too!” The Volksoper ensemble unleashes its true clown potential in this production.
Jacques Offenbach is back in town! The founder of operetta has undertaken a journey through time to the present day and has returned to Vienna to see a performance of his greatest hit, Orpheus in the Underworld…
Spymonkey’s first foray into full-scale opera enjoyed its world premiere on 21st January 2023 at Volksoper Vienna, Austria.
The premiere performance was dedicated to the memory of Stephan Kreiss 1962-2021
A production of Wiener Volksoper, under the artistic directorship of Lotte de Beer
Conductor Alexander Joel
Directed by Spymonkey / Aitor Basauri & Toby Park
Stage and Costume Design Julian Crouch
Choreography Gail Skrela
Video Joshua Higgason
Lighting Design Tim van’t Hof
Chorus Director Roger Díaz-Cajamarca
Skills Ensemble / Hercules – Michal Chovanec
Skills Ensemble / Marathon – Ondřej Klíč
Skills Ensemble / Hebe – Caroline Richards
Skills Ensemble / Pandora – Madeleine Rowe
Skills Ensemble / Minerva – Susanne Gschwendtner
Skills Ensemble / John Styx – Sebastian Matt
Jacques Offenbach – Marcel Mohab
Wolfgang Zimmer, sein Adlatus – Georg Wacks
Eurydike – Hedwig Ritter
Öffentliche Meinung – Ruth Brauer-Kvam
Pluto (Aristeus) – Timothy Fallon
Jupiter – Marco Di Sapia
Juno – Ursula Pfitzner
Merkur / Aikos – Jakob Semotan
Diana – Jaye Simmons
Mars – Aaron Pendleton
Venus – Katia Ledoux
Cupido – Juliette Khalil
Vulkan / Minos – Oliver Liebl
Neptun / Rhadamanthys – Martin Enenkel
22 Jan 2023
[DeepL translation below]
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.
Spymonkey’s first foray into operetta had its premiere on Saturday. The reviews have been like nothing we’ve ever experienced. WIENER
We start work directing our opera production at the Vienna Volksoper this week. Orpheus is designed by Julian Crouch and
Unit 7b Level 3 North, New England House,
New England St, Brighton BN1 4GH
Spymonkey is resident ensemble company at Royal & Derngate, Northampton.
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