Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Return to Hades

By Russ Bickerstaff
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When it debuted some 150 years ago, German-born French composer Jacques Offenbach’s first full-legth classical operetta was not immediately successful. One critic hailed it as “profanation of holy and glorious antiquity.” Such condemnation propelled the operetta to success in years to come, when it would be referred to as a "coarse and grotesque parody, full of vulgar and indecent scenes that give off an unhealthy odor." The work in question is Offenbach’s  Orpheus In The Underworld—a piece which is being staged this weekend at UWM’s Helene Zelazo Center fort he Performing Arts.

The story follows something of a comic misrepresentation of the classic Greek myth, most recently staged locally in a completely different format in the Milwaukee Rep’s  production of Eurydice earlier this season. In Offenbach’s version, the gods and goddesses of Olympus descend into the underworld to investigate Pluto’s abduction of Eurydice. Kurt Ollman directs the production with musical supervision by Katja Phillabaum. Another prominent name involved with the production is local actor Joe Fransee, who has slowly started to reach a level of ubiquity in the local theatre scene. The actor who has appeared in productions by companies as diverse as Boulevard, Off The Wall and The Skylight choreographs this particular production. As seen onstage, Fransee’s sense of humor may translate into interesting movements in the prodction of this operatic comedy.

UWM Opera Theatre’s production of Orpheus In The Underworld runs January 30th through February 1st at the Helene Zelazo Center on Kenwood.

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