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Offenbach: Orphée aux Enfers

Kathryn Lewek, Joel Prieto, et al; Vienna Philharmonic/Enrique Mazzola (Unitel/DVD)

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

Orphée aux Enfers
Kathryn Lewek, Joel Prieto, Anne Sofie von Otter, Martin Winkler, Max Hopp; Vienna Philharmonic/Enrique Mazzola; dir. Barrie Kosky (Salzburg, 2019)
Unitel 803008 & 803104 (DVD/Blu-ray)   140 mins


There are not a lot of laughs in Barry Kosky’s Orphée aux Enfers, a first outing for Offenbach at the Salzburg Festival and recorded in 2019. Leading the cast in a melange of the 1858 and 1875 versions of this opéra bouffon is a character completely  unfamiliar to the composer and his librettists: John Styx

To overcome the supposed difficulties of singers projecting dialogue, Kosky’s singers mime their words which are spoken by the actor Max Hopp as Styx. Hopp also creates a series of delicious sounds effects: the purr of Eurydice’s hairspray or the slurping of a slice of watermelon, in the process stealing a show that Kosky tells us ‘is a dreamscape featuring elements from the world of Offenbach, though viewed from a 21st-century perspective.’ So the Olympians appear to be refugees from Proust’s A la recherche du temps perdu, while the flighty Eurydice is tied into the kind of bustier adored by Parisian couture. Current sex and gender preferences are everywhere: a voluptuous female Cupid sports a suit and a pencil moustache while Pluto and Jupiter with lolling tongues are both ‘Dirty Old Men’ orally fixated on Eurydice.

Otto Pichler’s choreography for demons and vamps is appropriately campy, but the singing drags its heels. Best is Kathyrn Lewek’s Eurydice with jewel-like coloratura; and who wouldn’t warm to a cameo from Anne Sofie von Otter as Public Opinion? It may be a heretical thought but are the Vienna Phil, despite the best efforts of conductor Enrique Mazzola, natural Offenbachians?


Christopher Cook