Orpheus in the Underworld
St. Paul's Opera, 2017
Theatre is at its best when it is challenging the establishment, and Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld does just that. The Greek gods, bored with Ambrosia, take a raucous trip to the underworld to sort out a couple’s marital problems. Euridice faces off with Public Opinion, who represents the establishment as the voice of popular morality, over the matter of her divorce. She fends off a slew of possessive would-be lovers, opting, in the end, to become a servant to the God of Wine. The Goddesses spend a delightful number poking fun at the hypocrisy of Jupiter, king of the Gods, who represents politicians and political institutions.
When Offenbach and Crémieux wrote Orpheus, they were satirizing the Grand Opera establishment, specifically Gluck’s Orfeo, and the scandalous society and politics of the Second French Empire under Napoleon III.
Today, we’ve no shortage of modern equivalents. Public Opinion becomes the gatekeeper of Fake News, the Gods stage an “Olymp-xit,” and, with a production that took place just days after the Brexit referendum, there was no shortage of political fodder ripe for satirizing on stage. Just as in Offenbach’s time, satire remains an important tool for the reflection and examination of society— and perhaps now we need it more than ever.