French operetta is notoriously difficult to get right. The genre treacherously combines a kind of humour that doesn’t always translate well in time or language, difficult music to sing and a need to be as “naughty” as the original seemed without being crass. It’s a huge credit to Michael Patrick Albano and his student cast that they pretty much pulled off all of that last night with their new production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld. One could nit pick details (I shall) but overall it was a well paced show with some good singing and acting and it was genuinely funny. Unsurprisingly the audience lapped it up.
Albano and his team give the piece a sort of campy mythological setting. Costumes are chitons etc but everything is too long or too short and there are accoutrements that range from stereotyped to downright odd. The piece is sung in French but the dialogue is English and updated cleverly. It’s a good solution. Getting anglophones to get their comic timing right in French is asking a lot and updating is a tradition of the genre. The choreography (Anna Theodosakis) is lively and engaging and there are some really good movers in the cast. It’s way better than most COC shows in that department. And there’s post-ironic use of traditional CanCan outfits and moves. The only bit that underwhelmed was the fly duet. We know what Eurydice and Jupy are up to here but the staging was really tame. My cat might like Jupy’s kitten toy fly though.
The best singing of the night came, as it needed to, from Brittany Cann as Eurydice. She was spot on in some genuinely difficult music. Pretty decent in the acting department too. Joel Allison was a very solid Jupiter. There was just the right degree of sly pomposity with excellent comic timing. Caitlin McCaughey came close to stealing the show as Public Opinion; Mary Whitehouse meets Margaret Thatcher in a fine display of pompous ruffled feathers. She came close but I think the best performance of the night overall came from Adam Harris as Pluto. He caught the spirit of the thing perfectly and his ability to convey meaning through body language was impressive. There were notable cameos too from a very campy Mercury (Korin Thomas-Smith) and a genuinely pathetic Bacchus (Andrew Adridge) who sang a very fine Quand j’etais roi de Beothie. That’s just to pick a few highlights from a very large and effective ensemble cast. Russell Braun, in his debut on the podium, conducted. He was effective in getting a well paced and idiomatic performance out of all concerned. he should do this more.
All in all, nit picking aside, this was probably the most enjoyable evening I’ve spent in the MacMillan Theatre. It’s really a fun show. There are three more performances; tonight and Saturday at 7.30pm and Sunday at 2.30pm. In usual UoT Opera style a second cast will be used for most of the major roles tonight and Sunday.
Production photos aren’t currently available but I’ll try and post some if and when. I think they are fairly crucial to getting the aesthetic on this one.