Iford is a tiny operatic heaven, so it feels like a contradiction in terms to make it the setting for the hell of Offenbach’s operetta. But Orpheus in the Underworld also embraces the Greek gods’ Olympian heights, so no worries, as the Australian soprano singing Eurydice might have said.
In second empire France, philandering Napoleon III was the original target, poking fun, too, at Gluck’s opera Orfeo ed Euridice. This is a piece that needs a nicely outrageous take and, in Jeff Clarke’s new Opera della Luna production for Iford Arts, it gets it. His translation takes the liberties satire demands: contemporary, clever, cheeky. And for the character who wrongfoots the audience at the outset, introducing herself as “Public Opinion” – David Pountney’s ENO production styled her as Margaret Thatcher, and Scottish Opera had a Melanie Phillips – Clarke is more mischievous again, making her an arts council assessor, box-ticking with a vengeance, dictating that composer Orpheus abandon his violin concerto for opera. John Styx, Savile Row slimeball butler to Pluto, explains that he was consigned to hell for taking Greece into the euro.
The cast enjoys the whole romp as much as the audience: Suzanne Shakespeare’s Eurydice hits her top notes with impunity, and Tristan Stocks’s Orpheus with Paganini pretensions shows his tenor mettle. Their story gets a twist by way of another arts council dig. Ian Belsey portrayed a suitably OTT Jupiter, but it was Toby Purser’s briskly energetic conducting that carried the evening. The restoration of some of Offenbach’s original ballet music meant that Jenny Arnold’s choreography – flamboyantly realised by four dancers – got more of the action here, giving a better context for the gods’ final kneesup and the can-can. Purser rightly took that famous passage at a hell of a gallop.