Home Hall grand ‘Orphée aux Enfers’ opens on June 3 at the Théâtre de l’Hôtel de Ville

‘Orphée aux Enfers’ opens on June 3 at the Théâtre de l’Hôtel de Ville

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DURING A RECENT rehearsal of the Middlebury Opera Company’s “Orpheus in the Underworld”, Pluto (Lucas Levy) lures Eurydice (Bevin Hill) into the underworld. This comic opera in four acts will take the stage at the Town Hall Theater in Middlebury on June 3. Performers will not be masked during performances. PHOTO / DAVID DEVINE

East “Orpheus in the Underworld” the funniest opera of all time? The artistic director of the Opera Company of Middlebury, Doug Anderson, thinks so. So will tenor Lucas Levy, who will sing the role of Pluto, god of the underworld in the production, which opens June 3. Levy says, “Anyone who thinks of opera as a stuffy art form, this show is the exact opposite. ”

For Jacques Offenbach, nothing is too sacred to be satirized – neither grand opera, nor the gods of Olympus or any other god, nor the Emperor of France, nor the cultured manners and entertainments of the Parisian upper class. This comic opera, a success since its creation in 1858, parodies them all. In particular, he repeatedly zings Christoph Gluck’s opera”Orpheus and Eurydice. But to give Gluck the same amount of time, OCM will also stage this opera as the second show of its 2022 season, which opens September 28.

Almost the entire cast of OCM’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” production – also referred to as “Orpheus in Hell” and “Orpheus in the Underworld” – was recruited from OCM’s growing group of alumni, a group of talented singers from all over the country who once sang here. This not only saved OCM the cost and complexity of holding auditions in New York during a pandemic, but more importantly, led them to assemble a cast that understands the company’s artistic goals and connects with its audience. Stephanie Weiss appeared in the company’s first production, Bizet’s “Carmen” in 2004, and Bevin Hill is here for the ninth time.

Hill says she is energized by direct eye contact with listeners. “That’s why we are here. Our job is to share our gift and our joy.

What keeps CMO stars coming back? Many cite the intimacy of singing in a small space, where their unamplified voices can reach every listener in each of its 232 seats. Guest conductor Clinton Smith, who typically works in theaters 10 times larger, notes that Offenbach’s early works premiered in Parisian theaters not much larger than THT.

Although plot matters little in opera, let alone in comic opera, here is the story, a variant of the ancient Greek love story of Orpheus and Eurydice. Orpheus, a legendary poet and musician, so adored his wife Eurydice, a nymph and daughter of the god Apollo, that when she died, Orpheus heroically went to the underworld to try to save her.

But Offenbach’s Orpheus (sung by tenor Thomas Glenn), is not that kind of hero. Far from being an inspirational music god, he’s a dull, self-absorbed violin teacher, and his wife Eurydice (soprano Bevin Hill) is fed up with him. Both are ready to give up and have started affairs with others. Eurydice’s beloved is the shepherd Aristeas, played by Pluto in disguise. When Pluto carries her into the underworld, she is ready and willing to go. Orpheus, discovering that his wife is dead, thanks Jupiter for his good fortune and the freedom to resume dating.

But Orpheus does not get off so easily. A character representing public opinion (mezzo soprano Stephanie Weiss) informs him that abandoning his wife is unacceptable uncivilized behavior. He will not only lose his public respect, but all of his paying violin students!

EURYDICE (BEVIN HILL) is harassed by John Styx (Andy Papas), the obnoxious jailer of hell.
Photo by David Devine

So Orpheus climbs Mount Olympus to tell the gods his plan. Being a Greek deity, we learn, is no fun at all. The Olympians are weary of their exalted existence, with its proper demeanor and an invariable diet of nectar and ambrosia. They need a vacation and jump at the chance to accompany Orpheus to the wrong place. Jupiter, King of the Gods (sung by baritone Joshua Jeremiah) has an additional reason to make the trip. A serial womanizer, he also has amorous designs on Eurydice. His Queen Juno (contralto Angela Christine Smith) and all the other Olympians descend into hell. Hell in this production strongly resembles a well-known American city where every possible variety of entertainment is freely available.

The Underworld also features the only Offenbach aria that everyone, opera fan or not, already knows by heart, the Can-Can, with seductive dancers who fluff their fluffy skirts playfully. Offenbach’s other melodies are just as listenable.

The complete opera is sung in French with translations of surtitles. Each performance will be preceded by a pre-show conference, suitable for opera lovers and new listeners alike. The ongoing miracle of world-class opera in our small college town continues. Don’t miss it!

EURYDICE (BEVIN HILL) and Orpheus (Thomas Glenn), the bickering couple in Offenbach’s comedy Orpheus in the Underworld.
Photo by David Devine

JUNE 3 – FRIDAY

6:30 p.m. – Pre-show interview with James Pugh, OCM Board Member, Memorial Baptist Church

7:30 p.m. – Vernissage Orpheus in the Underworld, Town Hall Theatre, Middlebury

Opening Prosecco Reception

JUNE 5 – SUNDAY Morning

1:00 p.m. – Pre-show interview with James Pugh, OCM Board Member, Memorial Baptist Church

2:00 p.m. – Orpheus in the Underworld, Town Hall Theatre, Middlebury

JUNE 9 – THURSDAY

6:30 p.m. – Pre-show interview with artistic director Douglas Anderson, Memorial Baptist Church

7:30 p.m. – Orpheus in the Underworld, Town Hall Theatre, Middlebury

JUNE 10 – FRIDAY

7:00 p.m. – Concert by young artists, with cash bar and reception to follow

Town Hall Theatre, Middlebury

JUNE 11 – SATURDAY Morning

1:00 p.m. – Pre-Show Talk with Guest Conductor Clinton Smith, Memorial Baptist Church

2:00 p.m. – Orpheus in the Underworld, Town Hall Theatre, Middlebury

FREE OPERA FOR YOUNG PEOPLE

Under 26? Get free tickets to the opera. Visit the Town Hall Theater box office, or order online at townhalltheater.org/calendar-and-tickets, or call 802-382-9222.