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Last year, Opera Della Luna produced one of the undoubted highlights of the Festival in their racy, hilarious update of Donizetti's The Daughter of the Regiment. If only their take on Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld had been in the same league - Buxton Festival, Buxton Opera House, Buxton UK, 8 July 2019.
It got off to a promising start, with the censorious figure of Public Opinion (Katharine Taylor-Jones), here an Arts Council delegate come to view the production, interrupting the overture as she looked for her seat. The curtain rose on Daire Halpin's flighty Eurydice, pirouetting round Offenbach's flamboyant coloratura with ease, followed by Tristan Stocks' nerdy Orpheus, fixated on his new concerto, for which he played the violin himself.
Anthony Flaum was a spirited Pluto, disguised as shepherd Aristaeus, whom Eurydice had taken a shine to.
Director Jeff Clarke and designer Elroy Ashmore came up with some nifty visual gags. For the chorus of disapproval, the cast, in white, was dispersed around the auditorium. The gods rode to Hades at the end of Act III on an ingenious eight-seater circular bike which they assembled before our eyes, and on which they just kept going round and round.
There were also the inevitable topical references. Paul Featherstone, as John Styx, sadly recalled his days as King of the Boeotians in what may well become known, in this version, as 'Cameron's Lament'. (How many rhymes for 'referendum' can you think of?)
But it all came to feel increasingly like hard work. Matthew Siveter's attempts at conveying Jupiter's lasciviousness were simply embarrassing. Paul Featherstone's Mercury entered with a zimmer frame, but then didn't seem to need it any more - a classic instance of establishing a joke and then failing to see it through consistently. Louise Crane's Juno, Kristy Swift's Venus and Lynsey Docherty's roaring-girl Diana all overplayed their roles.
Matters were not helped by the fact that a lot of Jeff Clarke's English text just didn't get across the footlights. We had side-titles for Eugene Onegin and Georgiana, both sung in English; why not here? There was, I'm sorry to say, an air of smug complacency about the whole thing that was genuinely off-putting, epitomised by the cast's silly, affected way of speaking the dialogue. It was all rather like being forced to watch a private party to which you haven't been invited.
Toby Purser conducted with spirit, and Jenny Arnold choreographed the four short ballet sequences - one per act - effectively. But when a show peaks in Act I with a (genuinely funny) ballet of sheep, and it's downhill more or less all the way from there, you know you're in trouble. A sad disappointment after last year's Donizetti.
Copyright © 21 July 2019