Photo: Jef Rabillon
Whenever one listens to one of the many musical version of the myth of Orpheus, be it Monteverdi, Gluck or Telemann, one tends to wonder whether Euridice might not be tempted to stay in Pluto’s world. She might like it there, after all. With Crémieux and Halévy, this is precisely what happens: Euridice is having an affair with the shepherd Aristée who is actually Pluto in disguise. He ends up kidnapping her. Orpheus doesn’t really mind; since he’s not a model of marital fidelity either, he thinks it’s quite a good idea. The Public Opinon, however, makes him head out on in search of his lost wife. Together they stop by Olympus, where the gods are being their usual selves, and end up in the underworld. Euridice is alone in Pluto’s boudoir, bored to death. When husband and lover arrive to claim her, she ends up choosing becoming a Bacchante. This irreverent version is pure Offenbach, full of rhythm and fun, light but never superficial. Laurent Campellone and the Orchestre National des Pays de la Loire, full of drive and well balanced and nuanced, as well as a glorious cast, are doing it ample justice. Ted Huffman’s staging puts the story into a Grand Hotel, 30s style, with vaguely Greek or Roman furniture. A vast marble hall contains one by one the foyer, where the first act takes place, then a kind of conference room, where the gods are fooling around, and finally the bar, the underworld. In the background, a huge elevator links these different spaces. It is so big and conspicuous that it’s almost a character by its own right. These sets and the marvellous costumes are due to Clement & Sanôu and their team, who merit their own standing ovations. The choir is the hotel staff, bellhops and cleaning women in their uniforms. Everything starts off peacefully enough, with the central characters who present themselves on stage, explaining their situation. The first to arrive is the Public Opinion. Mezzo-soprano Doris Lamprecht simply nails her, taking on quite tart and severe intonations, yet musical and pleasant of voice. Young soprano Sarah Aristidou is Euridice, graceful of voice and of person; she masters the ironic exaggerated coloraturas with ease and joy. Tenor Sébastien Droy is her Orphée. He has a beautiful warm and natural voice. A handsome Orphée, a tad obnoxious with his violin. Things are beginning to get livelier when he hides in a flower pot a poisonous snake that bites Euridice. The orchestra follows the dramaturgy and goes on a takeoff in drive that will last until the end. Aristée, the shepherd, reveals is true identity as Pluto, shakes free a mane of white blond hair from under his képi and takes Euridice into his realm of shadows. In the second act, which takes place at Olympus and among its gods, everything becomes diabolically absurd. The gods are a bunch of fat golden characters, comfortable in their heaven of eternal stories of love and jealousy. Pluto alone stands out: he is now wearing a long black coat of light fabric, with long sleeves and punk style boots. In his back, a pair of wings made of feathers and bones open and close, following his movements. Three Cerberusses are with him, played with brio by the Alban Gérôme, Antoine Orhon and Benjamin Thomas, who deserve a special bravo for this performance. Mathias Vidal sings the part of Pluto, and he clearly enjoys being a rebel son and fallen angel. His voice is warm, clear, intense, and his stage presence impressive. This singer is, without any fuss and buzz, one of the finest tenors in France today. Divine voices are also hidden behind the absurd and loveable costumes of the Olympic family. The beautiful baritones of Franck Leguérinel, a bit deeper, and very jovial as a joyful Jupiter, and of Marc Mauillon who sings everything from bass to tenor, a bit lighter, and who has left the baroque universe where he is most at home, in order to play a marvellous Mercury in this baroque Olympus. The golden goddesses voices: Diane – Anaïs Constans, Venus – Lucie Roche, Minerva – Mathilde Nicolaus et Juno – Edwige Bourdy are sweet and golden indeed, and a tad similar. Jennifer Courcier play an adorable Cupid, a real baroque putto. All this is simply delicious and a great time is being had by all, on stage and in the hall. The second part has yet more treasures in store: the curtain rises over Act III, Euridice is languishing alone at the hotel bar. One John Styx, one of Pluto’s servants, comes in and begins courting her. He has the appearance of a porcupine, maybe because a porcupine’s sting sticks? Sweet-voiced tenor Flannan Obé plays him quite touchingly. Euridice however will have none of it, chases him away and hides in the ice-box. Jupiter and Cupid find her, and Jupiter takes on the appearance of a golden fly in order to seduce her. Jupiter being Jupiter, she falls for and onto him. The lovers have a drink at the bar, when everyone comes barging in, the rhythm accelerates, the tension rises another notch. Pluto arrives with more servants, or are these the wild animals that Orphée is normally supposed to tame? Anyway, here is, for our ever-increasing delight a joyous zoo of frogs, lobsters and herons. Orphée and Pluto are quarrelling about Euridice, almost tearing the poor girl apart. Jupiter decides: she can go back with Orphée, but he must not turn back on the way. So here is the easy way out for both of them: he does turn back, she can stay and remain among the Bacchantes. All is well that ends well, it’s time to party and for the famous Cancan. Applause and bravos abound, the Cancan resounds again and again, and if there were room between the rows of seats, the audience would be dancing, too. A delightful evening, musical champagne, a sweet intoxication without a hangover – what more can one wish for?