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Good, ribald fun in Hell

Tacoma Opera stages â€"Orpheus in the Underworld”

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Say “let’s go to the opera” and eyes may glaze with visions of large women in Viking hats breaking beer bottles with their sustained vibrato.

Say “let’s go to a two-hour romp with dancing and singing, centering around a bawdy story about philandering gods” and the reaction might change.

Turns out, in Tacoma Opera’s production of Jacques Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld” “everyone is screwing round and it all ends happily,” according to Kathryn Smith, General Director of the Tacoma Opera. “Opera is so basic: sex and violence set to music.”

In this opera, the violence is minimal, although there is some verbal sparring between Orpheus and Eurydice, who hate each other. Eurydice actually is in love with the shepherd next door, who is actually the God of the underworld in disguise.

He tricks Eurydice into death, which would be well and good for all parties, until Public Opinion butts in and tells Orpheus to rescue his wife or she’ll ruin his career.

Meanwhile, Jupiter has his eye set on Eurydice, and then the party in Hades begins in earnest. Then Orpheus goes down to begrudgingly reclaim his wife under the watchful eye of Public Opinion, and it all ends well, though not necessarily the way Public Opinion would like it to.

Offenbach wrote it as a spoof of a bunch of things, (like mythlology and French Royalty)” Smith explains, adding, “It’s a very different kind of show. It’s older than ‘Carmen,’ though; it premiered 149 years ago.” Smith notes, “This predates musical theater and Gilbert & Sullivan.”

The two-hour performance is an operetta, the musical format with dialog and musical pieces intertwining made most familiar by Gilbert & Sullivan in English some years later,

The Tacoma Opera version of “Orpheus in the Underworld” will be performed in English, which adds to the two-hour length, and the music/dialog/music format of the piece makes it accessible in ways that tragic six-hour operas by composers like Wagner are not.

Add to that, the show contains a notable melody with a notable dance, “The Infernal Galop”, known to most as the can-can dance.

“Orpheus was Offenbach’s first big hit. It’s a big hit show with a big hit tune,” Smith says, pointing out, “Given how risqué it is, it challenges anyone’s idea that things were held to a higher standard 149 years ago.”

Certainly, Public Opinion might disagree, even while holding you to a higher social standard before the show as she asks you to turn off your cell phone.

[Rialto Theater, Friday, Nov. 2 8 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 4 2 p.m., $25-$60, 310 S. Ninth St., Tacoma, 253.627.7789,]

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