Review: Orpheus in the Underworld ****

Replace Jupiter’s thunderbolt with a pair of saucy knickers and you’ve got a recipe for a rambunctious evening of rollicking fun at the Sheldonian Theatre. Offenbach’s exuberant operetta is based on the classical myth in which the musician Orpheus journeys to the Underworld to rescue his unwanted wife Eurydice only for Jupiter to win her from him by foul play. Director Michael Burden makes best use of an unforgiving space: a raised platform encircling the orchestra constitutes the stage, and the absence of a set doesn’t hinder the action. For the most part, the singers’ acting is perfectly adequate: Dominic Bowe lends Pluto a limp-wristed suaveness, and a bumbling Jupiter (James Geidt) brings cheeky eroticism to the buzzing ‘Fly Duet’.

The quality of singing might be slightly lacking in the male department, but the female voices more than make up for this: Anna Sideris sings beautifully as Calliope and Tara Mansfield (Venus) compensates for her poor diction with ravishing lyricism. Julia Sitkovetsky’s sparkling coloratura and sensational top E brings exactly what’s required to the role of Eurydice. Her mincing sauciness and farcical rapport with husband Orpheus (Will Blake) had the audience in fits.

Benjamin Holder’s beautifully paced conducting deserves special mention, as does the swooning clarinet solo in the overture – thus the orchestra’s minor tuning issues are entirely forgiven.

Oxford’s own New Chamber Company greatly impressed with this raunchy production. Highlights of the evening included the gods’ riotous ‘Revolutionary Chorus’ and I was left with the pounding ‘Infernal Galop’ (the Can-Can) ringing in my ears.

Nick Georgiou

4 stars

Orpheus in the Underworld is on at the Sheldonian Theatre Studio tonight at 8pm.