Orpheus in the Underworld

Toronto Operetta Theatre opened their production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld tonight, directed & designed by Guillermo Silva-Marin, and the familiar music conducted by Larry Beckwith.

In a month when the opera stages are showing two divas murdered by a jealous tenor (COC’s Flying Dutchman and Carmen) and another whose tale of heartbreak leads her to kill herself (Opera Atelier’s Dido and Aeneas) we need something more lighthearted: and this fills the bill.

It’s farce not high art, so we’re in a place where we don’t ask difficult questions. Last night I heard Yuja Wang play a transcription of music from Gluck’s heaven, tonight we heard Offenbach having fun playing with Gluck’s famous tune “che faro senza Euridice”. Yes this husband and wife couple are dying: dying to get away from one another that is. The gods help as only they can, showing them and us lots of fun along the way.

Beckwith gives it lots of energy, the tiny orchestra boisterous in their support of the chorus and soloists.
There were a few standouts, vocally and dramatically.

Gregory Finney is TOT’s best investment, always bringing a show to life whenever he comes onstage. While the voice is quite lovely, his delivery is like the funniest character in a sitcom. Just like Kramer in Seinfeld or Karen Walker in Will & Grace, he’s precisely at the centre of the funniest scenes, delivering the lines that bring the house down. Finney’s instincts are superb.

Gregory Finney as John Styx (photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studio)

We saw & heard River Guard in late 2019 singing with Tongue in Cheek’s eight drinkers program. Time isn’t flowing in the usual way, given the hiatus in the performing world from roughly March 2020 until this year, so I have to say: I didn’t realize it was so long ago, until I double-checked. He impressed then with his voice and personality, as he did tonight in the role of Pluto. As with Finney, Guard is another one with great instincts, taking the stage boldly, moving and singing with flair. It’s a great sounding voice used with musicianship but usually at the heart of the comedy.

Vania Chan sang Cunegonde five years ago with TOT, an impressive take as I recall (and again I can’t believe it’s so many years ago). Tonight as Eurydice she was if anything even better, with lovely vocals that were often used to underline comic moments, a delight.

River Guard as Pluto (Aristaeus) and Vania Chan as Eurydice (photo: Gary Beechey, BDS Studio)

Julia MacVicar’s relatively small part as Diana was impressive dramatically and vocally, as they showed us a big stunning sound.

It’s a huge company, full of lovely young talent, but the ones I mentioned were the standouts. This show is overflowing with youthful energy, wonderful tunes, although there were times it was hard to hear the text. The ones I mentioned all enunciated clearly, which goes a long way towards making comedy funny.

Orpheus goes back to the underworld again Saturday night October 22nd and the afternoon of Sunday October 23rd at the St Lawrence Centre.

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