ENO’s unconventional take on Offenbach’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’

ENO ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ © Clive Barda

In complete contrast to Gluck’s season opener, English National Opera’s current production in the Orpheus quartet is Offenbach’s satirical operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld, with tenor Ed Lyon and soprano Mary Bevan in the title roles, and Sir Willard White as Jupiter. Director Emma Rice makes her ENO debut, and the production is led by former ENO Music Director Sian Edwards.

Set to a libretto by Hector-Jonathan Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy, this riotous take on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth was the first full-length classical operetta, and premiered on October 21, 1858, at the Théâtre des Bouffes-Parisiens in Paris. It was greeted with shock by the critics, partly because they felt that it was mocking of Gluck’s revered interpretation, and partly because it destroyed the hallowed perception of ancient Greece. It proved hugely popular with audiences, though, and became an international success.

ENO’s production of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ © Clive Barda

Offenbach’s score is peppered with instantly recognizable music – the overture being the most well-known part, and very popular as a standalone piece. It includes what is probably the most famous piece, known as the Can-can, although Offenbach’s title for it was the Galop-infernal. Interestingly, the dance which is performed in the operetta is a completely different one from the rather raunchy and scandalous one which was first seen in Paris in the 1830s, and became so popular throughout the 19th century.

The operetta depicts Eurydice as an unfaithful wife who falls in love with Pluto, and having been fatally bitten by a snake, accompanies him to the hedonistic hell of the underworld. Orpheus reluctantly (and persuaded by Public Opinion), tries to rescue his errant wife, but as he leads her out of this bacchanalian revelry, Jupiter (who has also fallen in love with her), uses a thunderbolt to scare Orpheus into turning back, and Eurydice disappears back into the underworld.

ENO’s production of ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ – © Clive Barda

Ed Lyon has a repertoire which ranges from the baroque to contemporary music, and he has appeared on the stages of many of the world’s leading opera houses and concert halls. Among recent highlights are roles such as Colin in Denisov’s L’écume des jours for Stuttgart Opera, Hylas in Les Troyens, Steuerman in Der fliegende Holländer and Walther in Tannhäuser for The Royal Opera, Covent Garden, Don Ottavio in Don Giovanni for Scottish Opera, and Freddy in My Fair Lady for the Châtelet in Paris.

Mary Bevan, in her role debut as Eurydice, is an internationally renowned artist in the baroque, classical and contemporary repertoire. A winner of the Royal Philharmonic Society’s Young Artist award and UK Critics’ Circle Award for Exceptional Young Talent in music, she was awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours list in 2019.  This season sees her performing Sifare in Mozart’s Mitridate for Garsington Opera, reprising the role of Rose Maurrant in Weill’s Street Scene for Opera de Monte-Carlo, and on tour with the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment as Diana in Gluck’s Iphigénie en Tauride.

Willard White (Jupiter) and Mary Bevan (Eurydice) in ENO’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ ©Clive Barda

Sir Willard White sings Jupiter, father of the gods. One of the most popular opera stars of the past 40 years, and regarded as one of the most versatile, he has performed at some of the world’s finest opera houses and concert halls, and appeared with some of the most celebrated conductors, directors and orchestras. In addition to these performances at ENO, Sir Willard will also appear this season as Luther/Crespel in Les contes d’Hoffmann at La Monnaie, as Trinity Moses in Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny for Dutch National Opera, and as Arkel in Pelléas et Mélisande for LA Opera.

The cast also includes Lucia Lucas as Public Opinion, Anne-Marie Owens as Juno, Alan Oke as John Styx, Ellie Laugharne as Cupid, Keel Watson as Mars, Judith Howarth as Venus, and ENO Harewood Artists Alex Otterburn as Pluto and Idunnu Münch as Diana.

Ed Lyon (Orpheus) and Mary Bevan (Eurydice) in ENO’s ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ © Clive Barda

This new production for English National Opera was adapted from the original French by Emma Rice and Tom Morris, and is presented in association with Rice’s new company, Wise Children. Former Artistic Director of Shakespeare’s Globe, and actor, director and Artistic Director for Kneehigh, Emma Rice has also directed the West End productions of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg and Oedipussy, The Empress for the RSC, and An Audience with Meow Meow for Berkeley Repertory Theatre.

Sian Edwards – ENO Music Director during the 1990s – leads these performances, apart from those on November 1st, 26th and 28th when Valentina Peleggi takes the baton. Ms Edwards has been Head of Conducting at the Royal Academy of Music since 2013.

Set designs are by Lizzie Clachan, costumes by Lez Brotherston, lighting by Malcolm Rippeth, and choreography by Etta Murfitt.

English National Opera’s production of Orpheus in the Underworld runs at the Coliseum until November 28th. For more information and tickets, list the English National Opera website.

Information sourced from:
ENO program notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Ed Lyon
Mary Bevan
Sir Willard White
Emma Rice
Sian Edwards

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Young Spanish violinist debuts with San Francisco Symphony

Maria Dueñas © Tam Lan Truong – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

This week the San Francisco Symphony is delighted to welcome young Spanish violinist Maria Dueñas in her debut performance with the Symphony. Miss Dueñas will play the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto in a program which includes Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, and Mozart’s Symphony No 41, Jupiter. The performance will be led by Polish-born German conductor, Marek Janowski, making a popular return to Davies Symphony Hall.

It’s always exciting to showcase a new musical talent, and 16 year-old Maria Dueñas from Granada certainly looks set to make her mark on the world of classical music. Currently studying at the Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna and the University of Graz, Miss Dueñas has already been recognized as an important arrival on the concert stages of the world. She has won a number of competitions, including the 2017 Zhuhai International Mozart Competition in China, Belgium’s Leonid Kogan International Violin Competition, and the Georg Philip Teleman competition in Poland. She won first prize at the 2018 Vladimir Spivakov International Violin Competition in Ufa – at which she was presented with a 1912 Riccardo Antoniazzi fine violin – and first place at the 2018 Yankelevitch International Violin Competition in Omsk – where her prize was an 1890 violin by the Venetian maker Eugenio Degani.

Maria Dueñas warms up at Davies Symphony Hall ahead of her debut performance with the San Francisco Symphony

In addition to her studies and participation in competitions, Miss Dueñas has an array of other debuts coming up. These include appearances with the Oslo Philharmonic, Orquestra Simfònica de Barcelona, Saint Petersburg Philharmonic, Orquesta Ciudad de Granada, and a tour of Spain and Russia with the National Philharmonic of Russia.

She is, she says, “extremely happy about my American debut with such a renowned orchestra as the San Francisco Symphony” and also that she’s appearing with Maestro Janowski, who “makes my debut still more special because he has supported me and given valuable and very wise advice from the first moment he met me”.

Marek Janowski © Felix Broede – courtesy San Francisco Symphony

Marek Janowski, regarded as one of the great masters of music in the German tradition, is the Artistic Director and new Principal Conductor of the Dresden Philharmonic. During his tenure as Chief Conductor of this orchestra, between 2001 and 2003, he developed a deep connection with the Philharmonic, and regularly appeared with the ensemble as a guest conductor following the reopening of the Kultuurpalast concert hall in 2017, whilst holding the position of artistic director and chief conductor of the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin. Other positions which Maestro Janowski has held were musical director of the Orchestre de la Suisse Romande, chief conductor of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte Carlo, and musical director of the Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France.

This week’s program opens with Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass, a work commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and premiered by the orchestra on April 3rd, 1931, in a performance conducted by Serge Koussevitzky – an enthusiastic supporter of contemporary music. The work was performed by the San Francisco Symphony in 1939, at which performance Hindemith himself was the conductor.

The final work in this program is Mozart’s Symphony No 41, known as the Jupiter, thought to have been composed in a matter of weeks during July and August 1788. Georg Nikolaus von Nissen, author of a biography on Mozart, described it as “truly the first of all symphonies”, adding: “In no work of this kind does the divine spark of genius shine more brightly and beautifully”.

Marek Janowski leads the San Francisco Symphony and soloist Maria Dueñas in a program of music by Hindemith, Mendelssohn and Mozart, at Davies Symphony Hall from October 3rd to 5th. For more information and tickets, visit the San Francisco Symphony website.

Information sourced from:

San Francisco Symphony program notes

Maria Duenas – Musical America

Marek Janowski

Hindemith’s Concert Music for String Orchestra and Brass

Mozart Symphony No 41

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English National Opera’s new season opens with ‘Orpheus and Eurydice’

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Sarah Tynan © Donald Cooper

English National Opera opens the 2019-2020 season with an unusual and innovative programme, a quartet of works – each dedicated to a different interpretation of the Orpheus myth. Over the next two months, the London Coliseum will stage four very individual productions – Gluck’s Orpheus and Eurydice, Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, The Mask of Orpheus by Harrison Birtwhistle, and Philip Glass’s Orphée.

The first production in this entrepreneurial venture is Orpheus and Eurydice, a retelling of one of the most famous of ancient Greek legends, by the Bohemian-Austrian composer Christophe Willibald Gluck. Composed in 1762, the opera tells of the love of Orpheus for his wife Eurydice, after whose death, Orpheus learns that he is able to lead her out of the underworld on condition that he does not look back at her, or she will be lost to him forever. On seeing the sun as they ascend from the Underworld, Orpheus turns to share his joy with Eurydice, and the tragic prediction is fulfilled.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Sarah Tynan, Soraya Mafi and Alice Coote © Donald Cooper

Written in Italian, the opera premiered at the Burgtheater in Vienna in 1762, but in 1774 Gluck revised it in French for Parisian audiences, with a libretto by Pierre-Louis Moline, and added two dances. In the mid-19th century, Hector Berlioz’s new staging of the opera, with music reworked from both the Viennese and French scores, premiered at the Théâtre Lyrique in Paris in 1859. It’s this version on which ENO’s production is based.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, dancers from Company Wayne McGregor © Donald Cooper

This new production of Orpheus and Eurydice is directed by multi-award winning British choreographer and director, Wayne McGregor CBE, Resident Choreographer at The Royal Ballet, making his directorial debut for ENO. As a choreographer, McGregor has previously collaborated with the Company on its 2005 production of Salome, and more recently he created the Raven and Dove Dance for the production of Noyes Fludde. In this staging of Orpheus and Eurydice, the two dances which Gluck added to his French interpretation – the Dance of the Furies and the Dance of the Blessed Spirits – will be performed by members of Company Wayne McGregor.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Alice Coote, Sarah Tynan © Donald Cooper

Alice Coote OBE the “superlative British Mezzo” (San Francisco Chronicle), sings the role of Orpheus. With a repertoire which spans recital, concert and opera stages, Ms Coote has appeared in venues as prestigious as the Wigmore Hall, the Concertgebouw, the Vienna Konzerthaus, the Lincoln Centre and Carnegie Hall. She has also sung at the BBC Proms and more recently at The Stars of the White Nights Festival at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg.

Eurydice is sung by Sara Tynan, described by What’s On Stage as “the divine soprano”, whose repertoire embraces the baroque, classical and contemporary styles, and who is also much in demand for bel canto roles. Ms Tynan has appeared in a number of roles for ENO, and has sung for Glyndebourne on tour, at the Salzburg Festival, for Cincinnati Opera, Scottish Opera, at La Monnaie, Opera de Oviedo, Théâtre des Champs- Élysées, Opéra de Lille and Opéra de Lausanne.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, dancer from Company Wayne McGregor, Alice Coote, (c) Donald Cooper

The role of Love is sung by rising soprano Soraya Mafi, who appeared for ENO as Edith in The Pirates of Penzance, and as Titania in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Telegraph writes that “When Mafi is singing, we get lift-off”.

These performances of Orpheus and Eurydice are led by conductor, harpsichordist and organist Harry Bicket – currently Artistic Director of The English Concert, and Music Director of Santa Fe Opera.

ENO Orpheus and Eurydice 2019, Sarah Tynan, dancer from Company Wayne McGregor, Alice Coote, (c) Donald Cooper

Set design is by Lizzie Clachan, costumes by Louise Gray, lighting by Olivier Award-winning designer Jon Clark, and video designer is Ben Cullen-Williams.

English National Opera’s Orpheus and Eurydice, in collaboration with Studio Wayne McGregor, runs at the London Coliseum for eight performances, between 1st October and 19th November.

Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld opens on 5th October, Birtwhistle’s The Mask of Orpheus on 18th October, and Glass’s Orphée on 15th November.

For more information on ENO’s 2019-2020 season – which features some of opera’s best-loved works, in seven new productions and three revivals – visit the English National Opera website.

Information sourced from:
ENO programme notes
Encyclopaedia Britannica
Wayne McGregor
Alice Coote
Sarah Tynan
Soraya Mafi

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