Jacques Offenbach

Orpheus in the Underworld

Jacques Offenbach
ORPHEUS IN DER UNTERWELT

Dirigent: Tetsuro Ban
Inszenierung: Harry Kupfer
Öffentliche Meinung: Anny Schlemm
Orpheus: Jochen Kowalski
Eurydike: Gabriele Fontana
Aristeus (Pluto): Roger Smeets
Jupiter: Günter Neumann
Juno: Ute Trekel-Burckhardt
John Styx: Werner Enders
Cupido: Andreas Conrad

Orphée aux enfers, whose title translates from the French as Orpheus in the Underworld, is an opéra bouffe (a form of operetta), or opéra féerie in its revised version. Its score was composed by Jacques Offenbach to a French text written by Ludovic Halévy and later revised by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux.
 

The work, first performed in 1858, is said to be the first classical full-length operetta. Offenbach's earlier operettas were small-scale one-act works, since the law in France did not allow full-length works of certain genres. Orpheus was not only longer, but more musically adventurous than Offenbach's earlier pieces.

This also marked the first time that Offenbach used Greek mythology as a background for one of his pieces. The operetta is an irreverent parody and scathing satire on Gluck and his Orfeo ed Euridice and culminates in the risqué Galop infernal ("Infernal Galop") that shocked some in the audience at the premiere. Other targets of satire, as would become typical in Offenbach's burlesques, are the stilted performances of classical drama at the Comédie-Française and the scandals in society and politics of the Second French Empire.
 

The "Infernal Galop" from Act 2, Scene 2, is famous outside classical circles as the music for the "can-can" (to the extent that the tune is widely, but erroneously, called "can-can"). 
 

The first performance of the two-act, opéra bouffe version took place at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in Paris on 21 October 1858 and ran for an initial 228 performances. It then returned to the stage a few weeks later, after the cast had been given a rest. For the Vienna production of 1860, Carl Binder provided an overture that became famous, beginning with its bristling fanfare, followed by a tender love song, a dramatic passage, a complex waltz, and, finally, the renowned can-can music.
 

In America the work played in German at the Stadt Theatre, on Broadway, from March 1861. It had its Czech premiere in 1864, under Adolf Čech. It had a run of 76 performances at Her Majesty's Theatre, in London, beginning on 26 December 1865, in an adaptation by J. R. Planché.
 

A four-act version, designated as an opéra féerie, was first performed at the Théâtre de la Gaîté on 7 February 1874. (This has proved less popular over time than the original two-act version.)

Roles

ORPHEUS IN THE UNDERWORLD

Opera by Jacques Offenbach to a French text written by Ludovic Halévy
and later revised by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux.

Cupidon (Cupid), god of love
Diane (Diana), goddess of chastity
Eurydice, wife of Orphée
Junon (Juno), wife of Jupiter
Jupiter, king of the gods
Mars, god of war
Mercure (Mercury), messenger of the gods
Minerve (Minerva), goddess of wisdom
Morphée (Morpheus), god of sleep
Orphée (Orpheus), a musician
Pluton (Pluto), god of the underworld
Vénus (Venus), goddess of beauty
Bacchus, god of wine
Minos
Gods, goddesses, shepherds, shepherdesses,
lictors and spirits in the underworld



Orpheus in the Underworld is set in ancient Greece, on Mount Olympus, and in the Underworld.

Premiere cast (two-act version), 21 October 1858
Premiere cast (four-act version), 7 February 1874

Characters (in Mythology)

Cupidon (Cupid), god of love
In classical mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, erotic love, attraction and affection. He is often portrayed as the son of the love goddess Venus and the war god Mars. He is also known in Latin as Amor ("Love"). His Greek counterpart is Eros.





Diane (Diana), goddess of chastity
Diana  was the goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature in Roman mythology, associated with wild animals and woodland, and having the power to talk to and control animals. She was equated with the Greek goddess Artemis, though she had an independent origin in Italy.




Eurydice, wife of Orphée
In Greek mythology, Eurydice was an oak nymph or one of the daughters of Apollo (the god of music, prophecy, and light, who also drove the sun chariot, "adopting" the power as god of the Sun from the primordial god Helios). She was the wife of Orpheus, who tried to bring her back from the dead with his enchanting music.




Junon (Juno), wife of Jupiter
Juno is an ancient Roman goddess, the protector and special counselor of the state. A daughter of Saturn, she is the wife of Jupiter and the mother of Mars, Vulcan, Bellona and Juventas. She is the Roman equivalent of Hera, queen of the gods in Greek mythology; like Hera, her sacred animal was the peacock. 



Jupiter, king of the gods

Jupiter (Latin for "heavenly father"), also known as Jove, is the god of the sky and thunder and king of the gods in Ancient Roman religion and mythology. Jupiter was the chief deity of Roman state religion throughout the Republican and Imperial eras, until Christianity became the dominant religion of the Empire. In Roman mythology, he negotiates with Numa Pompilius, the second king of Rome, to establish principles of Roman religion such as offering, or sacrifice.




Mars, god of war
In ancient Roman religion and myth, Mars was the god of war and also an agricultural guardian, a combination characteristic of early Rome. He was second in importance only to Jupiter and he was the most prominent of the military gods in the religion of the Roman army. 





Mercure (Mercury), messenger of the gods
Mercury is a major god in Roman religion and mythology, being one of the Dii Consentes within the ancient Roman pantheon. He is the god of financial gain, commerce, eloquence (and thus poetry), messages, communication (including divination), travelers, boundaries, luck, trickery and thieves; he also serves as the guide of souls to the underworld.






Minerve (Minerva), goddess of wisdom
Minerva was the Roman goddess of wisdom and strategic warfare, although it is noted that the Romans did not stress her relation to battle and warfare as the Greeks would come to, and the sponsor of arts, trade, and strategy. From the second century BC onward, the Romans equated her with the Greek goddess Athena.




Morphée (Morpheus), god of sleep
Morpheus is a Greek god of dreams who appears in Ovid's Metamorphoses.







Orphée (Orpheus), a musician
Orpheus  is a legendary musician, poet, and prophet in ancient Greek religion and myth. The major stories about him are centered on his ability to charm all living things and even stones with his music, his attempt to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, from the underworld, and his death at the hands of those who could not hear his divine music.






Pluton (Pluto), god of the underworld
Pluto was the ruler of the underworld in classical mythology. The earlier name for the god was Hades, which became more common as the name of the underworld itself. In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Pluto represents a more positive concept of the god who presides over the afterlife. 



Vénus (Venus), goddess of beauty
Venus is the Roman goddess whose functions encompassed love, beauty, desire, sex, fertility, prosperity and victory. In Roman mythology, she was the mother of the Roman people through her son, Aeneas, who survived the fall of Troy and fled to Italy. Julius Caesar claimed her as his ancestor. Venus was central to many religious festivals, and was revered in Roman religion under numerous cult titles.



Bacchus, god of wine
Dionysus is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in ancient Greek religion and myth. He is also known as Bacchus , the name adopted by the Romans and the frenzy he induces is bakkheia. 





Minos
In Greek mythology Minos was the first King of Crete, son of Zeus and Europa. Every nine years, he made King Aegeus pick seven young boys and seven young girls to be sent to Daedalus's creation, the labyrinth, to be eaten by the Minotaur. After his death, Minos became a judge of the dead in the underworld.

                                        Synopsis

 

(original two-act opéra bouffe version)

ACT I

Scene 1: Near Thebes


A melodrama (Introduction and Melodrame) opens the work. Public Opinion explains who she is – the guardian of morality ("Qui suis-je? du Théâtre Antique"). She seeks to rework the story of Orphée (Orpheus) and Eurydice – who, despite being husband and wife, hate each other – into a moral tale for the ages. However, she has her work cut out for her: Eurydice is in love with the shepherd, Aristée (Aristaeus), who lives next door ("La femme dont le coeur rêve"), and Orphée is in love with Chloë, a shepherdess. When Orphée mistakes Eurydice for her, everything comes out, and Eurydice insists they break the marriage off. However Orphée, fearing Public Opinion's reaction, torments her into keeping the scandal quiet using violin music, which she hates.
 

We now meet Aristée – who is, in fact, Pluton (Pluto) – keeping up his disguise by singing a pastoral song about those awful sheep ("Moi, je suis Aristée"). Since Pluton was originally played by a famous female impersonator, this song contains numerous falsetto notes. Eurydice, however, has discovered what she thinks is a plot by Orphée to kill Aristée, but is in fact a conspiracy between him and Pluton to kill her, so Pluton may have her. Pluton tricks her into walking into the trap by showing immunity to it, and, as she dies, transforms into his true form (Transformation Scene). Eurydice finds that death is not so bad when the God of Death is in love with you ("La mort m'apparaît souriante"), and so keeps coming back for one more verse. They descend into the Underworld as soon as Eurydice has left a note telling her husband she has been unavoidably detained (Descent to the Underworld).
 

All seems to be going well for Orphée until Public Opinion catches up with him, and threatens to ruin his violin teaching career unless he goes to rescue his wife. Orphée reluctantly agrees.
 

Scene 2: Olympus
 

The scene changes to Olympus, where the Gods sleep out of boredom ("Dormons, dormons"). Things look a bit more interesting for them when Diane (Diana) returns and begins gossiping about Actaeon, her current love ("Quand Diane descend dans la plaine"). However, Jupiter, shocked at the behaviour of the supposedly virgin goddess, has turned Actaeon into a stag. Pluto then arrives, and reveals to the other gods the pleasures of Hell, leading them to revolt against horrid ambrosia, hideous nectar, and the sheer boredom of Olympus ("Aux armes, dieux et demi-dieux!"). Jupiter's demands to know what is going on lead them to point out his hypocrisy at great length, describing – and poking fun at – all his mythological affairs. However, little further progress can be made before news of Orphée's arrival forces the gods to get onto their best behaviour. Pluto is worried he will be forced to give Eurydice back, and, after a quotation from Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice sends the gods to tears, Jupiter announces that he is going to Hell to sort everything out. The other gods beg to come with him, he consents, and mass celebration breaks out at this holiday ("Gloire! gloire à Jupiter").

ACT II

Scene 1
 

Eurydice is being kept locked up by Pluto, and is finding life very dull. Her gaoler, a dull-witted tippler by the name of John Styx, is not helping, particularly his habit of telling, at the slightest provocation, all about how he was King of Boeotia (a region of Greece that Aristophanes used as a source of rural rubes) until he died. But if he had not died, he would still be king ("Quand j'étais roi de Béotie").
 

Jupiter spots where Pluton hid Eurydice whilst being shown around by him, and slips through the keyhole by turning into a beautiful, golden fly. He meets Eurydice on the other side, and sings a love duet with her where his part consists entirely of buzzing ("Bel insecte à l'aile dorée"). Afterwards, he reveals himself to her, and promises to help her, largely because he wants her for himself.

Scene 2
 

The scene shifts to a huge party the gods are having in Hell, where ambrosia, nectar, and propriety are nowhere to be seen ("Vive le vin! Vive Pluton!"). Eurydice sneaks in disguised as a bacchante ("J'ai vu le dieu Bacchus"), but Jupiter's plan to sneak her out is interrupted by calls for a dance. Unfortunately, Jupiter can only dance minuets which everyone else finds boring and awful ("La la la. Le menuet n'est vraiment si charmant"). Things liven up, though, as the most famous number in the operetta, the Galop Infernal (best known as the music of the can-can) starts, and everyone throws himself into it with wild abandon ("Ce bal est original").
 

Ominous violin music heralds the approach of Orphée (Entrance of Orphée and Public Opinion), but Jupiter has a plan, and promises to keep Eurydice away from him. As with the standard myth, Orphée must not look back, or he will lose Eurydice forever ("Ne regarde pas en arrière!"). Public Opinion keeps a close eye on him, to keep him from cheating, but Jupiter throws a lightning bolt, making him jump and look back, and so all ends happily, with a reprise of the Galop.

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