It’s like panto – Emma Rice does Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld in the London Coliseum

Experiencing Jacques Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld on an opera stage has been on my wishlist for a long time. When I hear that Emma Rice’ production returns to London’s magnificent Coliseum for a few performances it takes some rearrangements to at least join the very last staging – and the newsletter of her production company Wise Children even grants a discount on the tickets. Merci!

What do you want more of an opera house facade at Christmas time?

I visited the London Coliseum once for Damon Albarn’s Tudor opera Dr. Dee and fell in love with the building’s façade. During the Christmas season it is even more beautiful and opulent without being, well, operatic-over dramatic.

With the German translations of Offenbach’s Orpheus from the French original I am familiar mostly because of its crazy rhyming somewhere between genius and amateurism. The timbre is far away from the Greek tragedy of a musician so talented that he convinces the gods in the kingdom of death to allow his late wife Eurydice to return with him – Offenbach composed a hilariously witty and simultaneously ridiculously silly comedy which includes the cancan and laid the foundation for everything we associate now with late 19th century Paris and the Moulin Rouge.

You will enjoy this opera as long as you are not afraid of balloons

Tonight I am introduced to the English translation and surtitles will assure I am not missing out on any dialogue. Because of the surtitles our entire row (cheap seats I admit) is moved three rows forward; a brilliant start to the evening. Visitors start talking to each other and my issue of Stephen Fry’s Heroes is commented on – I assure everyone it is a much better read than the forerunner, even though I recommend reading Mythos first. Maybe it is this warm atmosphere which allows visitors to be in giggles at many points: When Eurydice leaves her husband, Hades tempts her to follow him willingly to hell and when Jupiter and his fellow Olympians bore each other in the pool landscape. Now, did you know that you can rhyme “Jupiter” with “stupider”?

Messages on top of the safety curtain – was this one for me?

Things pick up when become interested in Eurydice and chase her around while her desperate husband also follows her. Expect a good portion of Rocky Horror glam in this version of hell, populated by horny immortals, peeping toms and strippers. The funniest comment comes from a lady behind me: “It’s like panto – I love it!” For an opera beginning with an infant funeral (warnings are hanging out at the entrance) and finishing with not always mutual sex scenes. This is an impressive achievement. Is Offenbach’s Orpheus outdated and tasteless or so silly you can get away with and just have a laugh? The second opinion has my vote.

**** out of 5 stars

For my seat in Dress Circle L1 I paid £24.50

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