An Updating That Is Dated -- and in German
J Scott Morrison | Middlebury VT, USA | 03/05/2007
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Offenbach's 'Orpheus in the Underworld' is by some considered to be his best operetta. Certainly it marked an advance in his oeuvre from the little one-acters he had done before. It retells the story of Orpheus and Eurydice with rather broad references to then-current 1858 Paris society. And it was a smash success, enough so that Offenbach was able to build a grandiose house -- Villa Orpheus -- on its proceeds. The music from this sparkling operetta is probably best known by most from the adaptation of many of its tunes by Manuel Rosenthal for the ballet 'Gaîté Parisienne' from which a popular suite has been excerpted.
This DVD is a 1971 color film made by the redoubtable Rolf Liebermann when he was the head honcho at the Hamburg Opera and is one of the first full-length color presentations of opera for television. It is taken from a stage presentation but was filmed in a TV studio, lavishly kitted out with sets and costumes from the stage presentation. The lip-synching singers are expertly dubbed. Sound is mono. The costumes are very late 60s, with attractive ladies in hot pants and knee-length fake-leather high-heeled boots, men in garish colors, wildly exaggerated mustaches, exuberant hats and cloaks, with an occasional feint in the direction of Greek costuming. The net result is a very dated-looking presentation (think 'Austin Powers').
Musically the presentation is fine, although it does at times seem a bit earthbound. The conductor is the workmanlike Marek Janowski, leading the Hamburg Philharmonic. Singers are attractive. Acting is broad and often tiresomely so. William Workman, then a young man at the beginning of his career, makes a fine Pluto. Elisabeth Steiner is a pert and musically excellent Eurydice, Kurt Marschner an excellent if sardonic Orpheus (and he appears actually to be playing Orpheus's violin). Special kudos go to singing actress Inge Meysel as the long-suffering Juno.
I see this DVD more as an artifact of its age -- the late 1960s -- than as an enduring presentation of Offenbach's classic. Add to this that it is sung in German and it will be seen to be of limited interest to the general opera lover.
Sound: Mono; Region 0 (worldwide); TT 101 mins; Subtitles: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian. Picture format: 4:3