Here you have an unexplored (by me) staircase descending into the basement of Thornes Marketplace, Northampton’s showcase new/old shopping center. It’s alluring, in its promise of fun and unexpected goods at low prices, but so far I’ve not dared to descend lest I find myself — where? Perhaps in an actual underworld? Or is it that I’ve just been seeing too many operas lately?
Orpheus in the Underworld by Jacques Offenbach is a send-up of the classic opera by Gluck, Orfeo ed Eurydice, a “correct and proper” rendering of the Greek legend of the musician Orpheus and his prematurely dead, beloved wife, Eurydice.
But Offenbach went in for Opera buffon, comic opera, and his version of the legend is anything but classic or reverent. The 1858 opera at its opening performance was both praised for biting satire and equally damned for vulgarity and indecency. To give you an idea —- this opera is where the music for the Can-Can comes from!
I won’t bewilder you with the plot. Enough to know that in this scene, Eurydice is being kept locked up in the underworld by Pluto, its god, and is finding her new life extremely tedious.
Now it happens that the God Jupiter has spotted where Pluto hid Eurydice during a tour of Hell (don’t ask) and slips through a keyhole by turning into a beautiful golden fly. He attracts the bored Eurydice’s attention by his melodious buzzing, and sings a love duet with her. His part consists almost entirely of ZZZZZZ’s —(“Bel insecte à l’aile dorée”). (After this encounter, he reveals himself as a god and promises to help her, principally because he wants her for himself. She’s too good for Pluto.)
Whatever you expected opera to be — you will find that this scene is NOT it! Natalie Dessay, a delightful and sexy French soprano, sings Eurydice. Jupiter is sung by the bass-baritone Laurent Naouri — who is actually Natalie Dessay’s real-life husband, adding an extra layer of spice to an already torrid performance.
Even if you’re a confirmed opera hater (how could you!) you’ll find this duet —- hmmm — gripping? seductive? erotic? hilarious? As an astute commenter on the Youtube site put it: “Dessay’s comedic performances are what we might have seen if Lucille Ball sang opera.”
Hell never looked so good. Give it a try, and Enjoy!
(For a blowup of the entrance to the Underworld — oops, to Acme Surplus — link on over to sister blog A View from the Woods.)