- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

Baby, it was cold outside Saturday, but things were hotter inside the Atlas Performing Arts Center as the In Series uncorked its new and surprisingly lavish update of Jacques Offenbach’s classic operetta “Orpheus in the Underworld” (“Orphee aux enfers”) directed by Rich Davis.

First performed in 1858 in Paris, “Orpheus” was Offenbach’s first certifiable hit. It was - no surprise - a scandal when it first opened, largely because of its now-classic risque “galop infernal,” better known in today’s musical universe as the cancan.

Ludovic Halevy’s clever libretto for the work re-imagined the Greek legend of Orpheus, who perfected the lyre and must travel to hell to retrieve his beloved and recently deceased wife, Eurydice. This production’s English-language version uses a recent adaptation by Kelley Rourke for Glimmerglass Opera.

In Halevy’s concept, pouty Eurydice and narcissistic Orpheus detest each other and are headed for Splitsville. They’re aided and abetted by Eurydice’s new boy-toy, local barista Aristaeus, who is really the lustful Pluto in disguise. Slipping a peanut-butter mickey into Eurydice’s cappuccino, he causes her death by allergy and whisks her off to the underworld.

Orpheus is shamed by Public Opinion to retrieve his wife from hell, but when the lascivious gods get involved and head for Hades, all hell, of course, breaks loose.

There are a numerous standouts in this production’s excellent cast. Chief among them is baritone Bryan Jackson as a jolly, over-the-top Jupiter. The stage crackles with energy when he and his booming voice join the festivities.

Also outstanding was soprano Randa Rouweyha as Eurydice. With a light, easy voice and excellent diction, she proved the perfect foil to Orpheus and the gods. One of the evening’s highlights was her amusing duet with Mr. Jackson’s Jupiter, who, having turned himself into a golden fly, buzzes all his notes in reply.

Fine performances also were turned in by mezzo Grace Gori as a media-savvy Public Opinion; tenor Richard Novak as Pluto; and Beth Rubens, Serena Canino, Daniele Lorio, Jennifer Suess and Laura Lewis as various sprightly goddesses. As Styx, Richard Tappen had a field day singing a good-natured recap of the D.C. political situation.

An added plus was the appearance of four George Mason University student dancers, who threw themselves into a rather creative cancan, treating it at times like a college cheerleaders’ routine.

On the downside: Tenor Philip Bender’s Orpheus was a trifle dull; the initial pace of Act I was more than a bit plodding; and music director Joel Lazar could have communicated a lot better with the onstage cast, whose collective tempo was often at odds with the orchestra’s.

Nonetheless, the entire production is bright and fun and certainly will continue to improve for its upcoming final weekend.


WHAT: Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld,” presented by the In Series

WHERE: Atlas Performing Arts Center, 1333 H St. NE

WHEN: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday

TICKETS AND INFORMATION: Tickets $18 to $39; 202/204-7763 or visit www.inseries.org


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