Orpheus in the Underworld
February 12 – 22, 1997
By Jacques Offenbach
Director Harvey M. Miller
Eurydice longs to be rid of her boring musician husband so that she can romance with Pluto, God of the Underworld, in his earthly disguise as Aristee. When an unfortunate snake bite claims her life, Eurydice is transported to Hell by the lascivious Pluto. Orpheus, her husband, is delighted at the news of her demise which leaves him free to engage in his own extra-marital affairs. However , Public Opinion arrives and compels him to undertake a journey to Heaven to beg Jupiter for the return of his beloved wife, for the sake of appearances, of course.
The gods are discovered lounging about on Mount Olympus. Jupiter has heard of Pluto ‘s abduction of Eurydice in whom he, too, has an interest. Under pressure from Public Opinion to restore Eurydice to Orpheus, Jupiter makes the decision to travel to Hell in person to see that justice is done – as well as to personally investigate the young lady’s charms. At the last moment, he agrees to take everyone along on his trip to the Underworld .
Eurydice is languishing in Pluto’s boudoir under the unwelcome attention of Pluto’s manservant, John Styx. Jupiter arrives and his suspicions that Eurydice has been incarcerated somewhere on the premises are soon confirmed by Cupid and her team of detectives. Transformed into a giant insect, Jupiter tantalizes and then seduces Eurydice. He promises to take her to Mount Olympus after the party which Pluto is throwing for his guests . At the crucial moment, Orpheus, under the watchful eye of Public Opinion, arrives to make yet another appeal for the return of his wife. Jupiter solves the dilemma which leaves everyone – well, almost everyone – exhilarated and happy.
During its premiere stage run in 1858, Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus In The Underworld burst pocket-books and bellies alike. The broadly satirical tone of the work, which pokes fun at Classical mythology, Glucks’s operatic setting of the Orpheus legend, as well as contemporary society, generated ample controversy and self-promotion. The key ingredient of this succes de scandale, however, was a local critic by the name of Jules Janin. Week after week, his Journal des Debats was filled with charges of artistic sacrilege which touched upon every aspect of the production. Offenbach, together with his literary collaborators Hector Cremieux and Ludovic Halevy, patiently waited until Janin turned the spotlight of his attack on the libretto of Orpheus. This happened in due course and the creators delighted in finally being able to play their ace. They had used, in their libretto, text lifted verbatim from one of Janin’s own columns from earlier that year. Cremieux was quick to share this titbit with Parisian society in the pages of Figaro.The mouthpiece of piety had served his purpose and, not surprisingly, conceded.
By the end of the Janin scandal, Orpheus was a slick and smoothly- running show. Curiosity seekers encountering the work first-hand discovered the satire to be of a light-hearted nature, and generic as much as it was specific. Many responded to its far-reaching invitation to join in the fun . The Orpheus success was a timely one. Despite the relative popularity of Offenbach’s earlier thirty-three production, the composer had consistently managed to operate his theatre the Bouffes-Parisian in the red. With Orpheus, the box-office receipts were substantial enough that Offenbach’s extravagances no longer jeopardized his personal finances or those of the theatre. Everyone shared in the success. The chorus and orchestra grew, as did the salaries. At the close of its initial two hundred and twenty-eight performance run, the Orpheus project had grown considerably. Furthermore, it had become downright fashionable. Night after night the reveling Gods brought the house down with the infectious rhythms and frenetic pacing of the still famous cancan . A once outmoded dance, Offenbach ‘s cancan became a symbol of flamboyance and vitality, later captured in Toulouse-Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge posters and very much in evidence today on the dance stages of Las Vegas.
The unprecedented recognition and financial security which Orpheus afforded Offenbach even helped to secure him French citizenship. The Emperor Napoleon III commanded and honored a special performance of Orpheus as the feature of a gala event at Paris ‘s Italian Opera in 1860. Performances of Orpheus soon conquered international stages as well, including those of Offenbach ‘s native Germany. After a carefully nurtured early career, Orpheus began to lead a somewhat independent life and Offenbach turned his creative energies to new opera-bouffes, opera comiques, operettas and the like. Many were subtle reworkings of the successful ingredients of Orpheus; satires of other mythological legends and over revered composers. However, in 1874, after premiering no less than fifty more works, Offenbach again focused his attention on Orpheus. What has originally catapulted him into the realm of larger-scale works was further transformed into an operetta on a truly grand scale. Each of the original four scenes became an act in its own right. Contemporary revivals of Orpheus include the concise as well as augmented versions.
Unlike many satirical works, the success of Orpheus has never hinged solely on audiences getting a bunch of “inside jokes”, although they certainly add another layer of merry-making. The young painter Gustav Dore laced the original costumes and set designs with witty allusions to Napoleon III and his court, whose amorous and other intrigues strikingly resembled those of Orpheus’ Gods and were much discussed in the tabloids of the day. Subsequent designers and directors have found ample personalities and activities with which to underscore the work’s ongoing topicality. Even without such pointed references, Orpheus’ Gods embody an abundance of very human frailties and idiosyncrasies which will undoubtedly remain recognizable for audiences yet to come.
Opera Nova is the opera program within The School of Music designed to give operatic experience to our voice students. In the past five years we have presented our singers in such diverse operas as Night Blooming Cereus by John Beckwith, Prima Donna by Arthur Benjamin, Suor Angelica by Puccini and The Beggar’s Opera. Each year we have become a little more ambitious, and it has been gratifying that our last two productions have played to sold out houses. Those houses were in our Recital Hall, transformed for the occasions into a theatre. With help from the Theatre Department we have always managed to create strong effects with a minimum of resources, but it had always been a wish of mine to be able to give the students a real theatrical experience in a real theatre.
With this in mind, two years ago I approached the Theatre Department with the idea of doing Orpheus in the Underworld as a joint production in which the theatre students would participate equally with the music students. What you are about to see then is a first, a production in which the considerable resources of both departments have shared their expertise, their students, and their faculty to give you an unforgettable evening of outrageous musical theatre.
To have enjoyed the corning together of two disciplines (which since the beginning of time have always gone hand in hand) has been an exciting experience for all of us.
Cast & Creative
Production Manager Gysbertus Timmermans
Technical Director Steve Vrooman
Assistant Stage Managers Carleigh Baker, Paul Donison, Lindsay Walker
Electrician Brendan Keith
Lighting Board Operators Aaron Martin, Sarah Korzan
Sound Board Operator Michelle Deines
Properties Supervisor Misha Koslovsky
Properties Assistant Margaret Handford
Properties Team Garth Johnson, Aaron Martin, Chris Oliver
Properties Builders Jeff Henry, Erin Macklem, Denise de Montreuil
Head of Scenic Construction Charles Procure
Assistant Carpenter Jererny Gordaneer
Scenic Construction Team Kellie Barnum , Justin Border, Alan Lundy,
Nicola Schicchi, Lindsay Walker
Head of Wardrobe/Cutter Karla D. Stout
Costume Shop Assistant Karen Levis
Costume Design Team Erin Macklem, Amber McGregor, Allison Bottomley
Costume Construction Assistants Mairi Babb, Connie Beel, Allison Bottomley, Doris Bottoni, Carrie Costello, Lana Manuel, Michelle Monteith, Amber MacGregor, Elizabeth Reid
Millinery Connie Beel
Hair Dresser Doris Bottoni
Co-ordinating Wardrobe Supervisor Marlis Schweitzer
Wardrobe Supervisors Genevieve Charbonneau, Heather Young
Dressers Scott Roberts, Mary Simpson, Jaime Yard, Christopher Bradburn, Kris Johnston, Ellen Bjelica, Maria Dimas
Stage Crew Michael Armstrong, Mike Dirnarnbro, Alexander Cameron, Jennifer Deslippe
Sue Kelly, Kristin Nowosad Public Opinion
Sara Topham Primrose
Carlene Wiebe Eurydice
Ken Lavigne Orpheus
Cam Culham Pluto
Peter Collins, Om Mogerman Jupiter
Lesley O’ Connor, Sacey Storrey Juno
Janelle McWhirter Venus
Mairi Babb Cupid
Brian Arens Mars
Sara Topham, Jodi Trusscott Morpheus
Laura Whalen Diana
Marlis Schweitzzer Mercure
Bill Mackwood John Styx
Victoria Peacock Cerebus