A comic masterpiece, Offenbach’s operetta ‘Orpheus in the Underworld’ twists the classic Greek tragic tale of Orpheus and Euridice into one of illicit affairs, telling of the debauchery and trickery rife in the world – and underworld – of the Gods. The tale sees Orpheus plot with Pluto to bring Euridice to the underworld, enabling Pluto to act on his love for Euridice and Orpheus to enjoy his earthly delights. Public opinion steps in to convince Orpheus to follow Euridice while the Gods in Olympus argue over their ‘boring’ lifestyles, leading to Jupiter’s idea of a trip to the Underworld after Mercury reveals Pluto’s plot for Euridice.
While the Infernal Galop (best known as the can-can) is by far the most famous piece of music from the opera, the Act II sc 1 ‘Bel insecte a l’aile dorée’, otherwise known as the Fly Duet, is undoubtedly the comic highlight. Jupiter, in a fit of mischievousness, has found his way into Euridice’s captivity chamber in the form of a golden fly. What pursues is a duet of music genious, where we find Euridice captivated by this ‘lovely fly, handsome and so sweet’ as he buzzes her into a state of bliss. This moment, when Euridice joins Jupiter in buzzing until they reach a fever-pitch climax, is an example of both fantastically imaginative writing and composition.
In some productions the fly remains invisible while Jupiter sings from backstage but by far the best are those productions that show Jupiter in what is usually a bizarrely constructed) costume, flapping his wings as he flutters about Euridice as they reach their buzzing climax.
This is one of our favourite opera moments. What’s one of yours?