Orpheus: Gone to Hell

Production Team:

Director: Peter Jorgensen

Musical Director:

Producer: Roger Nelson

Director's Notes

What a journey.  Over the past 4 months I feel like I have climbed Mount Olympus, descended into the Underworld and am now, like Orpheus, climbing toward the light and wondering if I should turn back to see what’s there.

The original Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice is a parable about faith:  Orpheus and Eurydice are madly in love.  Eurydice gets bitten by a snake and dies.  So upset is Orpheus over the loss, he sings with such passion that the Gods weep and advise him to go down to the underworld after her.  There, again through music, he softens the heart of Pluto who says he will allow Eurydice to return to earth on the condition that Orpheus lead the way without ever looking back to see if she is following him.  Just before Orpheus returns to the upper world he turns to see if she is there, and, alas, Eurydice is lost forever - if only he had a little more faith!

I began this journey of faith looking into Offenbach’s life and the life of Orphée Aux Enfers.  This Opera Bouffe premiered in 1858 in Paris.  Opera, the popular entertainment of the day, was where the Greek myths exploded in tragic, epic proportions.  But Offenbach turned the tale on its head by asking the question, “what if Orpheus and Eurydice couldn’t stand one another?“  By doing so he created a work that irreverently mocked the opera world, the ruling class, the bourgeoisie, and religion.  He took a parable about faith and used it to question our beliefs:  What is virtue, what is vice, what is art, and who decides?  Or maybe he just wanted us to laugh our butts off!

First written as a chamber piece, it was reworked twenty years later into an epic, four act extravaganza.  However, I liked the intimacy and punch of that original 1858 production and I wanted to return the show to it’s bohemian roots.  So I began rewriting it.

Just as I began writing, another journey began:  Fatherhood.  My son Lukas (meaning “bringer of light”) came 10 days early.  10 days that I was planning to spend writing.  So I would wake from my 5am nap, have a glass of O.J., and spend the rest of the day in my underwear bouncing between my office and the nursery - “What rhymes with Underworld?” - change the baby - “What rhymes with Goddesses?” - calm the baby - “How would a fly and a woman make love?” - calm my wife.  At the end of the day, I would stop and think to myself, “How would a fly and a woman make love?”

By the beginning of January I had a finished script and I began staging the show. 

There were times in rehearsal when I would stop and ask, “what time of morning did I write that?” or “Can we really do this?”  But all in all the show seemed to be working.  I still had the problem of finding one more actor for the show, but I was sure that he would descend from Mount Olympus to save me. (He ended up coming from Victoria.)  As I write this, the show is about to go into it’s final stages of preparation…

It’s been a very wacky ride!  And there have been many questions along the way but I think that’s what Offenbach wanted.  Not far behind each question lies a laugh and not far beyond each laugh lies a question.  Which, in a sense, is a lot like fatherhood.  So the absurdity of being a new Dad has seemed to go hand in hand with the absurdity of directing this show - and I think it was those 2am writing sessions when I did my best work.

And now I am not looking back.  I have my faith in the work we’ve all done and I look forward to seeing it all emerge into the light.

Peter Jorgensen

© 2019 North Shore Light Opera Society

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