Offenbach – Orphée aux Enfers / Opéra National de Lyon 1997 (2)

(Previous section here.)

All of the above makes for an entertaining two hours. The running gag is that music, especially “serious music” is a form of punishment or torture – not only does Euridice break out the earplugs when Orpheus threatens her with a concerto, but on Mt. Olympus, when the gods stage a miniature rebellion in Act II to show their dissatisfaction with Jupiter’s boring regime, they make him listen to their charges in the form of a song. Euridice also does a fair amount of eye-rolling as her appointed guardian and servant in Hades, John Styx, sings over and over of how he was once King of Boeotia. Harmony is boring. (Indeed, “boring” is probably the key word in the libretto. Everyone just wants to have a little fun, and is seemingly stymied at every turn.)

The whole thing is about a jump to the left and a step to the right away from the Rocky Horror Picture Show. Niceness and conventional behavior are overturned, boundaries are pushed, and there is lots of standing in lines and dancing while wearing weird clothing. (Rocky Horror aside, the production has a very 1990s vibe to it. It’s not just the style of the red shoes with chunky heels that Euridice goes clomping around in in Act I. We also have for example gender-bending male dancers in tutus – the way this is done reminded me of the ballet scenes in that ENO Ariodante from about that same time. There is a family resemblance between the two, even though the stage design, costumes and choreography are done by different people.)

Performance-wise, the linchpin of the operation is Natalie Dessay, who can do pouty and “naughty” (I put it in quotation marks because the operetta itself does) and bored with the best of them. The music doesn’t make any great demands on her, and she goes get to show off how easily and neatly she can turn musical phrases into sighs or screams or bursts of annoyance. The entire cast pitches the silliness just about right – there’s enough depth to carry the story, but not so much that caring what happens to any of these individuals might get in the way of appreciating the slapstick and double entendres.

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