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Apr 30, 2007 - Nevada Opera sputtering "Orpheus in the Underworld" lacks comedic style
By By Jack Neal
Jacques Offenbach's funny send-up of Greek mythology, "Orpheus in the
Underworld," is getting an Elton John make over in the Nevada
Opera touch-of-skin presentation which opened Friday night (4/27/07) at Reno's Pioneer Center for the performing Arts.
The company's Bacchus, Chris Palmer, is a prime hunk out of one of the
underworld's best-of-the-best down-under gyms. Not to be outdone by male attractiveness the company's female dance troupe, choreographed into great shape by choreographer Barbara Land, is on hand to spice up the action to a fever pitch with a bevy of can-can girls decked out as the naughtiest cheerleaders in town.
All well and good, but grand ingredients do not a fabulous cake make unless mixed with care and style and style is decidedly missing in this budget presentation. Lean and hungry can be exciting, but cheap is rarely pleasing, and cheap is what this production is. Nevada Opera has fared will under the artistic leadership of Michael Borowitz. In spite of a valiant cast, the Borowitz batting average is not enhanced by this misadventure of script – lots of updating, some of it funny, some of it corny, some of it about as sensitive as the Don Imus Show.
Dennis Jesse's staging did not make matters better. The split-second timing and double-take style needed to make such a farce work oozed into such a broad take on things what might have been funny all to often hit the ground with the hilarity of a battering ram.
For the most part the large cast of singers did what it could to make this sprawling enterprise work.
With seemingly no inhibitions, Jennifer Roderer is terrific in the gossipy role of Public Opinion. Chandra Egger, even sailing over the top with some abrasively white sounds, has a field day as the footloose Diana. Eric van Hoven is on hand to sing the indomitable, if silly, Orpheus, and he makes the most of an all too long journey. The glamorous Sheila Murphy sings and acts Eurydice and she sings and acts her very well, indeed. John Hammel is the devil-may-care Pluto and he's loads of fun and most often in good voice.
Jared Rogers scores in his delightful portrayal of the free-wheeling Mercury.
(Reviewed from the dress rehearsal. Because of illness. Rogers will miss all performances and will not be replaced.) As Cupid (and picking up much of Mercury's material), Suzette Thoeni does all – she's a class act as both an actor and singer - in the best show-must-go-on tradition. Dennis Jesse doubles as the skirt-chasing Jupiter and as stage director. He sings well, as usual, but his direction lacks the deft sense of comedic soufflé this nonsense take on "Orpheus" must have.
At last the Nevada Opera Chorus has an opportunity to not only "sing out
Louise" as Mamma Rose would say, but to individually star in their own
juicy vignettes of show business. The orchestra does its usual excellent re-creation of the score.
Michael Borowitz, who designed the production including the sets and costumes, conducts. Musically, the adroit Borowitz pacing keeps the evening's outrageous happenings on the tongue-in-cheek track it needs, but it's not enough.
With so much that's right and so much that's wrong, Offenbach's ribald comedy, "Orpheus in the Underworld," in this current Nevada Opera presentation, is – unfortunately - more miss than hit.
"Orpheus in the Underworld" will be repeated Sunday (4/29/07) at 2 p.m.
All Nevada Opera main-stage presentations are produced at the Pioneer Center for the Performing Arts, 100 South Virginia Street, Reno, Nevada. Nevada Opera's next season will open with a 40th Anniversary Concert, September 29 (2007), followed by Verdi's "Aida," October 12 and 14 (2007), Humperdinck's "Hansel and Gretel," February 8 and 10 (2008), and Gilbert and Sullivan's "The Mikado," April 11 and 13 (2008). For information call 775-786-4046.
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