Orpheus in the Underworld

Date 21st July 2021
Society North Norfolk Chamber Opera
Venue St Margaret's Church, Cley next the Sea
Musical Director Mark Jones


Author: Susan DuPont

At last, out of lockdown, and performed in concert in one of Norfolk’s huge churches (so great spacing and good sized audience), all fully masked, and so much appreciated and enjoyed, this presentation after so many trials and postponements really was a great treat.

We should have seen this as a staged performance about 2 weeks after the initial lockdown, and after repeatedly possible dates of performing in concert rather than acted version and at least four postponements, very cleverly done with adornment of hats and cloaks to suggest the characters, accompanied by keyboard rather than orchestra, some members of group missing, but the humour of the piece to the forefront, to go with the strong singing skills of the company under the direction of Mark Jones. Another performance elsewhere in a different church to come, and hopefully an extended tour as too good just for these performances.

Narrator Christine Blakermore linked the scenes and action with clarity and kept the story running freely. Obviously some cuts like the Can-Can in this concert version but the audience were kept on track throughout with this frothy piece of Offenbach.

A peaceful meadow of flowers and the music set the mood, the snatching of a delightfully tuneful and well voiced Eurydice from Sam Hawkins and the fury of a possessive (for her son) Calliope from Julie Bjerregaard in strong voice. John Clack as Orpheus displayed all the mellow tones and strong voice as expected from him as he reluctantly obeyed in his mission to pursue; a good duo. And managing a clever purple balloon sequence, Guy Hewitt as Icarus added to the moment vocally as they took to the skies.

And at Olympus, Desmond Holmes reigned as Jupiter in powerful state and voice, always so reliable and the even keel of the group, with mellow tones he tried to calm the about-to-be-rebellious other gods in their complaints about a too perfect life of ambrosia: the ‘To Arms’ an energetic and powerful number from the group (as was ‘Down Below’ later in Act 2). With Kay Holmes as Juno, and Andy Masterson as Pluto, the trio featured really well in this action. And the power, physicality, and domination, and huge vocal skills for the role, this Pluto from Andy Masterson was the highlight in this performance, what a joy to hear this voice throughout the action, in duets with Euridice as well the other concerted numbers and with the big choruses. And the moment to hum with the soloist in the familiar and well delivered ‘king’ of Styx from Peter Walters, a delight.

The lovely ladies, who really enacted the parts with gestures and movements presumably saved from the original scheme of the action, Cupid from Katherine Jones, Venus from Melissa Sampson, and Diana from Molly Percival were excellent in their song and interpretation.

The whole piece and evening such a joy to be part of, to remember with fond affection the Offenbach score and familiar melodies, and when performed in style by NNCO such a perfect escape back hopefully into an improved and more perfect life of music.