Offenbach: Orpheus in the Underworld

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Offenbach
WORKS: Orpheus in the Underworld
PERFORMER: David Fieldsend, Mary Hegarty, Richard Suart, Barry Patterson; D’Oyly Carte Opera Chorus &Orchestra/John Owen Edwards
Offenbach makes the perfect choice for D’Oyly Carte’s first recorded venture beyond GilbertandSullivan. (It was, after all, as a pendant to La périchole that Trial by Jury first appeared in 1875.) Unlike the 1979 EMIrecording conducted by Michel Plasson, which opted for the over-inflated four-act opéra-féerie version of 1874 and which, at some 140 minutes’ duration, can make this classic satire on marital infidelity feel more like a season in hell than a day trip, D’Oyly Carte gets us to Hades and back in just under 100 minutes by plumping for the shorter, sharper, altogether funnier two-act original that first wowed the crowds at the Bouffes-Parisiens in 1858 (plus one addition: that guaranteed encore-earner, the runaway Rondo saltarelle for Mercury).


Idiomatic as Plasson’s all-French cast may be, these latterday Savoyards yield nothing to them in comic style, while putting to shame many a ‘straight’ opera singer with their word-perfect pointing of Jeremy Sams’s witty and risqué English translation. With an orchestra that delivers everything from the bucolic to the bacchanal with just the right dose of unforced jollity, and a pantheon of minor deities led astray by Richard Suart’s jovial Jupiter and Barry Patterson’s superciliously smooth Pluto, the whole production has a real lived-in feel and, in Mary Hegarty’s flighty Eurydice, a nymphet – sorry, nymph – virtually to die for. Mark Pappenheim