2008 – Orpheus In The Underworld

GODS, goddesses and mortals – Northumberland Gazette – March 2008.

GODS, goddesses and mortals descended upon Alnwick to give a storming performance of Jacques Offenbach’s comic operetta Orpheus in the Underworld.

Fabulous vocals and uplifting music, including the famous Galop (better known as the cancan) combined to make this irreverent version of Greek mythology all heaven and not-at-all hell.

And something which was more refreshing than seeing neither Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United or Liverpool win this year’s FA Cup, was seeing an opera which was both light-hearted and amusing.

What is, I’m sure, down to my somewhat naivety of this art, I always had the preconception that opera was a deadly serious and on the whole, heavy affair, with players bemoaning their troubles and strifes.

Certainly the previous operas which I had seen did not help this view. But watching Alnwick Stage Musical Society’s production of Offenbach’s classic work, it is clear that there is also room for comedy as the show was outwardly humorous, containing a mixture of comic elements.

Now the synopsis is a tad too complicated to go into in detail but the general gist of the operetta – a tale of love, lust, interference and betrayal – chronicles Orpheus, who reluctantly sets about retrieving his wayward wife Eurydice from Hades, assisted by a rabble of gods and goddesses lead by Jupiter.

And this production by the Musical Society – their 27th in a fine 21-year history – was a vibrant treat.
The colourful cast, dressed in an array of pleasing-to-the-eye costumes, excelled and considering that it was an amateur production, the voices of the main players were a delight to hear, especially Francis Buckingham (Eurydice) and Arlene Cadman (Calliope).

Anthony Stoker and Phil Gregory were great as Orpheus and Pluto respectively while Jamie Hulbert’s portrayal of Mercury was hilarious. Alex Swailes was delightful as Jupiter, completely absorbing the role, while Vicky Diggens put her heart and soul into her portrayal of Cupid.

However, praise must also be heaped upon musical director and conductor Peter Brown and the orchestra as the music was the show’s real treat.

The harmonies were catchy and uplifting and it was surprising to hear a number of well-known tunes, no more so than Galop (thankfully the cast performed the famous cancan dance to help bring proceedings to a close).
It is certainly to the orchestra’s credit that they did justice to Offenbach’s wonderful music and helped make the show the success that it was.

Director: Penny Brown.

Cast: Frances Buckingham, Arlene Cadman, Vicky Diggens, Ali Wrangham, Sarah Purvis, Maureen Reay, Anthony Stoker, Phil Gregory, Alex Swailes, Dave Penny, Jamie Hulbert, Duy Lam, Andrew Smail, Des Sellers, Chris Blythe, Melanie Grey, Simon Johnson, Rohan Hartshorn, Grace Niven, Teresa McQuillen, Lesley May Brown, Vicki Smith, Crissy Stoker.

Conductor/musical director: Peter Brown.
Orchestra: Dawn Allen, Stuart Murray, Georgina Leyland, Richard Poyer, Scott Grey, Imogen Lambourn, Katy Luke, Gavin Johnson, Ray Thompson, Glen Hogg, Nicola McMeekin, Mark Gray.

By James Willoughby

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