A Delightful Descent into the Underworld: Orphée aux Enfers (Orpheus in Hell)

Théâtre lyrique de la Montérégie’s recent French production of “Orphée aux Enfers,” directed by the ingenious Étienne Cousineau with musical direction by the talented Étienne Isabel, was a masterful blend of comedy, satire, and social critique.

This opera, renowned for its light-hearted tone and irreverent humor, captivated audiences with its clever parody of Greek mythology and its incisive commentary on society.

From the moment the curtain rose, the audience was transported into a whimsical world where the boundaries between the divine and the mundane blurred with hilarious consequences.

Jupiter (Real Robitaille) remains stoic in light of the playful accusations of misdemeanor coming from his children – Photo by Monica Wong

The plot followed Orphée, who reluctantly embarked on a journey to the underworld to retrieve his wife, Eurydice, after her abduction by the God of the Underworld Pluto. This reluctant hero’s quest is marked by unexpected twists and turns, all under the watchful and mischievous eyes of the gods of Olympus.

The cast brought the characters to life with vibrant energy and comedic flair. Orphée, the whimsical bard portrayed with a perfect mix of exasperation and determination by Emmanuel Raymond, was a relatable protagonist navigating the absurdities of his situation. Eurydice, on the other hand, portrayed by songbird Marie-Claire Drolet, was both charming and cunning, a delightful counterpart to her husband’s earnestness.

The gods, each more colorful than the last, added to the chaos and hilarity with their whims and quirks.

Time to Can Can CAN !!!!!! Photo – Monica Wong

One of the highlights of the production was the famous Can-Can infernal, a dance sequence that has become emblematic of this opera. This high-energy number was a visual and auditory feast, with the dancers’ precise movements and the orchestra’s lively accompaniment creating an atmosphere of sheer exuberance.

It was impossible not to be swept up in the infectious joy of this scene, which perfectly encapsulated the spirit of the opera.

Étienne Cousineau’s direction shone in his ability to balance the comedic elements with the opera’s underlying social critique. The humor was sharp and often subversive, poking fun at the pomposity of the gods and the folly of human endeavors. Yet, amid the laughter, there were moments of genuine reflection on the nature of love, power, and the human condition.

Étienne Cousineau and Étienne Isabel at curtain call with the cast – Photo Monica Wong

Musical director Étienne Isabel at the baton ensured that every note enhanced the storytelling. The score, filled with catchy melodies and intricate harmonies, was performed with precision and passion by the orchestra. The synergy between the musicians and the actors on stage was palpable, resulting in a seamless and engaging performance.

This production of “Orphée aux Enfers” was a brilliant example of how opera can be both entertaining and thought-provoking, delivering laughs while also encouraging the audience to reflect on deeper themes. Whether you were a seasoned opera-goer or new to the genre, there was much to enjoy in this delightful descent into the underworld.

Those who experienced this production witnessed the Can-Can infernal and much more in a performance that promised and delivered both a comedic triumph and a musical masterpiece.

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