Orpheus in the Underworld at Royal College of Music

Orpheus in the Underworld – Comic operetta in two acts from the original by Hector Cremieux & Ludovic Halévy [sung in Jeremy Sams’s English version]

Cupid – Martha Jones
Diana – Eleanor Dennis
Eurydice – Annabel Mountford
John Styx – Edward Grint
Juno – Victoria Gray
Jupiter – Samuel Evans
Public Opinion – Rosie Aldridge
Mars – David Hansford
Mercury – Nicolas Agius-Darmanin
Minerva – Katherine Crompton
Morpheus – Oliver Clarke
Orpheus – Edward Hughes
Pluto – Anthony Gregory
Venus – Emilie Alford

Royal College of Music Opera Orchestra
Michael Rosewell

Liam Steel – Director
Chloe Lamford – Designer
Peter Harrison – Lighting Designer

Reviewed by: Simon Thomas

Reviewed: 29 November, 2010
Venue: Britten Theatre, Royal College of Music, London

With panto time almost upon us, the Royal College of Music’s International Opera School turns to lighter fare, with Offenbach’s much-loved operetta. Lighter but by no means easier or less demanding; the students work their socks off in Liam Steel’s rumbustious production, which doesn’t let a moment go by without a gag or natty revelation of character. Amongst all the business and busyness, the cast, drilled within an inch of their lives, seem straitjacketed at times but, if there’s a sense that this is a director’s show, such a high level of discipline should stand the young singers in good stead for the future.

The twist Offenbach and his librettists give the classic tale is to make the hero’s beloved Eurydice abhorrent to him, with rescue from Pluto’s clutches the last thing he wants. In return, she can’t stand his music, which traditionally charms the leaves off the trees but here sees her piling cushions and boxes on her head to keep out the sound. Jeremy Sams’s quick-witted English version works wonders and comes through loud and clear without resort to surtitles.

The first act is seemingly Richard Jones-inspired, set in a seedy hotel with compartmented and wall-papered rooms. These open out ingeniously and Chloe Lamford’s sets grow in opulence throughout the evening, from an Olympian health resort, complete with sun-beds, to a truly stylish Hades, served by the ubiquitous lift that flits between realms. With minimal means, Lamford conjures up a series of completely different settings.

There’s great ensemble singing and terrific performances from the principals. The first night saw Annabel Mountford’s voluptuous Eurydice, Samuel Evans’s wandering Welsh Jupiter, a spiv-like Pluto from Anthony Gregory and a blood-curdling Diana by Eleanor Dennis (don’t cross her even if you’re the King of the Gods!).

While these roles will have alternative casting for later performances, the Cupid (Martha Jones), Juno (Victoria Gray’s Scouse harridan), John Styx (flouncy, rich-toned Edward Grint) and Rosie Aldridge’s fearsome Mary Whitehouse (Public Opinion) run through. There’s a notable turn by Nicolas Agius-Darmanin (another fixture for the run) as a sharp-edged Mercury, a graduate from the Dame Edna School of Air Stewardry. The opening night Orpheus was Edward Hughes.

The erotic cavorting of two dancers (Edd Mitton and Carly Blackburn) really turned up the heat in Hades, while Michael Rosewell keeps the RCM Opera Orchestra moving at a hell of a lick. There’s plenty of brassy exuberance, and an accomplished violin solo from Erzsebet Racz.

The evening builds to a magnificent finale with a particularly well-staged bacchanalia. Few people will leave not humming Offenbach’s irresistible tunes and tapping their toes in the wake of the glorious ‘Can-Can’ and, if the spirit of the festive season hasn’t started to filter through yet, this is certainly a show to get you in the mood.

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