Opera Scotland

Orphée aux Enfers 2011Scottish Opera

Read more about the opera Orpheus in the Underworld

Scottish Opera's 2011-12 season was its fiftieth, with celebrations in order, though the tone was muted. There was a sense of relief that the company had survived recent turmoils, and the level of activity was much reduced. The full-scale productions began in the autumn with a revival of Thomas Allen's Barber of Seville staging. In the New Year there were new productions of Hansel and Gretel and The Rake's Progress, along with a welcome revival of the vintage Tosca production. In the absence of any invitation to play the main festival in 2011, the first item in the season was a staging on the Edinburgh Fringe of Weill's Seven Deadly Sins. This was followed by a third co-operation with Music Theatre Wales at the Traverse - the highly dramatic Greek. The autumn repertoire also had a medium scale tour of Orpheus in the Underworld. In January the Russian co-productions with the Conservatoire continued, with Prokofiev's Betrothal in a Monastery. There was also the expected Highlands and Islands concert party under the Opera Highlights label. In June, the company's 50th anniversary was celebrated with a single concert performance, well-cast, of those old stalwarts from days of yore, Cavalleria Rusticana and Pagliacci.

This new touring production was very welcome. Scottish Opera commissioned a distinctly racy new translation from Rory Bremner, and his sharp tongue and political nous proved to be a good match for Offenbach, who was well known for parodying the work of other composers of the day, and whose librettists kept things fairly sharp themselves. Originally created to satirise the government of Napoleon III, here the action was updated to the present day as director Oliver Mears poked fun, sometimes in a quite unsubtle way, at our media-mad, celebrity obsessed world.

Offenbach had never previously been given much prominence by Scottish Opera. Only two of the works have been given full-scale stagings.  La vie parisienne and La belle Hélène both used witty newly commissioned translations by John Wells, who, as well as being a popular comic and satirist, was a French scholar of some note, with translations of several classic plays to his credit. Both productions contained wonderful elements, but did not remain in the repertoire. There has also been a medium-scale Tales of Hoffmann, and many years earlier, a piano-accompanied tour of The Grand Duchess. Orpheus has therefore been a notable absentee, though the old Sadler's Wells production by Wendy Toye, complete with endless repeats of the well-known galop infernale (or can-can) was brought north for several Scottish performances in the '60s.

Mounting the work as a co-production with Northern Ireland Opera allowed the company to further strengthen its links on the other side of the Irish Sea - several of the performers were Irish, and the production team were certainly better known over there. With luck, some expansion of touring there may in time partly compensate the company for the loss of longstanding tour dates in England.

The performance generally worked well, with the novelty value of the Bremner version being reinforced by the stage action, which was very funny, though might not have been to all tastes. The fly duet for Eurydice and Jupiter had the audience in stitches, even if it did lack the sense of sly innuendo which can be even funnier. The change of John Styx from tenor to bass was by no means the only startling aspect of his characterisation. A novel way of handling the can-can was found, bringing in all the characters to excellent effect. The reduced orchestration by Derek Clark had plenty of the right music-hall type of style, and was beautifully played by a band of Scottish Opera principals. Only periodic spells of unclear diction brought the occasional frustration.

The tour was scheduled from 8 September to 22 October in Scotland, followed by a short tour from 24 October to 5 November in Northern Ireland. The production then moved to the Young Vic in London in early December. Most performances were accompanied by piano.  A small cluster of three in the middle of the run (Stirling, Dumfries, and Dundee) had the added benefit of a chamber orchestral arrangement newly provided by Derek Clark, who conducted them. There was an orchestral accompaniment for the Northern Ireland performances too.

Performance Cast

Public Opinion

Máire Flavin


Nicholas Sharratt (Exc Sep 17)

Adrian Ward (Sep 17)

Eurydice wife of Orpheus

Jane Harrington

Pluto Lord of the Underworld

Gavan Ring


Marie Claire Breen

Cupid Venus's son, the God of Love

Marie Claire Breen


Ross McInroy

Jupiter Father of all the Gods

Brendan Collins


Daire Halpin

Juno Jupiter's wife

Olivia Ray

Mercury Jupiter's messenger

Christopher Diffey

John Styx the dead king of Boeotia

Ross McInroy

Performance DatesOrphée aux Enfers 2011

Map List

Citizens Theatre | Glasgow

8 Sep, 19.30 10 Sep, 19.30 11 Sep, 16.00

Nevis Centre | Fort William

13 Sep, 19.30

Aros Centre, Portree | Portree, Isle of Skye

15 Sep, 19.30

An Lanntair | Stornoway, Lewis

17 Sep, 19.30

Wick High School | Wick, Caithness

20 Sep, 19.30

Duthac Centre, Tain | Tain, Ross-shire

22 Sep, 19.30

Dalrymple Hall | Fraserburgh

24 Sep, 19.30

One Touch Theatre, Eden Court | Inverness

27 Sep, 19.30

Adam Smith Theatre | Kirkcaldy

29 Sep, 19.30

Linlithgow Academy Theatre | Linlithgow

1 Oct, 19.30

MacRobert Arts Centre | Stirling

4 Oct, 19.30

Easterbrook Hall | Dumfries

6 Oct, 19.30

Gardyne Theatre | Dundee

8 Oct, 19.30

Garrison Theatre, Lerwick | Lerwick, Shetland

12 Oct, 19.30

Deeside Theatre | Aboyne, Aberdeenshire

15 Oct, 19.30

Tait Hall | Kelso

18 Oct, 19.30

Magnum Theatre | Irvine

20 Oct, 19.30

Victoria Halls, Helensburgh | Helensburgh

22 Oct, 19.30

Great Hall, Downpatrick | Downpatrick

27 Oct, 20.00

Marketplace Theatre, Armagh | Armagh

28 Oct, 20.00

Theatre at the Mill | Newtonabbey

31 Oct, 19.45

Millennium Forum | Derry/Londonderry

2 Nov, 20.00

Strule Arts Centre, NI | Omagh

4 Nov, 20.00

Young Vic | London

30 Nov, 19.45 1 Dec, 19.45 2 Dec, 19.45 3 Dec, 19.45 7 Dec, 19.45 8 Dec, 19.45 9 Dec, 19.45 10 Dec, 19.45

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