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by Jacques Offenbach, new translation by 5noo Wilson and David Poultney Mike HUl1tillgtOlt's lIutt'S all Hellley Alllnte ll r Operatic alld Dramatic So iety's productiol1 at




H i' III e y - u II . Til a III e s, April 2000

Henley's Ke nt on theatre is rep uted to be the fo u rth- oldest work ing th ea tre in the K. It Wil5 bui lt in 1805 ilnd has a somewhilt cheq uered career having been a Chapel a t o ne Jim e. It is now ow ned by the loca l C h arity commiSsio ne rs a nd is administrated by He.nley Op ra tic Society and other loca l soc ieties who fo rm tb e theatr managemeil t. It even has its ow n ghost! HAODS came into ex is ten ce in 1922 with iI perfo rma nc ' of Tile Mikado and ha ve been p roducing musicals and dram,, $ at the rate of two or three per year ever since. We hav ~ s tro ng stlciNy wi th over 200 members.

AUDI These arE' Jlwil\ " especially for the <.11 th e worry that the 颅 ra ll y ~ rth to til kt- p~ the nece sury good co me for, ard. W \ t.

We ha ve usually stuck to the tr ied and tes ted mus icals over the I' ears, indeed in 1950 there was 路 near revolt in the society's ran when it wa mooted th at an A ml! ri nn musica l Okla]lOl11a be prod uc d ins tead of the usual , &5 or Novell o. In 19 th commit te decided thM the time had corne to into more d e lve serio us s ing ing in the hopes of promoting gre ter scope fo r our Sin gers. Firs t choi e was Tile M.erry Widow but we had pro blems in acquiring th e licence, Die F1ederl11flu. w as cons id e red until we fin a lly plumbed for Orphe us in 111<'

Eventual'" was ca~t co mpl ctdr society, on l ~ one Sin ger outside the

Ul1derworld. Having bee n acqua inted with the NO's production in 1984 w hich us d a new trans la ti on a nd fea tured sets designed by Gerald Scarfe, we decided that this was th e show to welco me


We s tarted 1\'" before C hri slP" concentratin > music, esped chorus PJ rts princi pal sing, 路 some lessons


_ ng coach and were able to their parts in great depth.

NUARY new yea r started with most of p rinc ipals knowing their songs we were behind with the 'ill S learning. This month was en over almost en tirely to entrating on the cho ra.! pilrts. r new M.D. was adamant that the vocal parts be sung. Our • ..<1 1 rehearsal pianist w as \ ai lab le but we were more In lucky in gain ing the se rvices a ta lented pianist w ho could a lso Jeh the parts. d ec id ed from the start that there p uld be a corps de ballet w ho ·o ldd not onl y undertake the t>ru nt of the d ancing, but 'llso take " er the various du ties of maids, ,crvan ts, devils, even stage hands. This necessitated recruiting a -horc ogr ilpher skilled in both lass ica l and I11(Jdern dance. From a d irector 's point of view there were n ow three aspects to con s ider: inging and dancing chorus parts, pu re dancing, principal sing in g m d movement. It is essential to bear in mind thilt il lead bariton e has a lot to concen trate on usically.

FEBRUARY At last the show is comi ng togeth r. It ha - been a diffi.cult show to block as th e principal s.i ngers h,we p rim aril to sin g very difticult p iu ts so complicated dan ce ro uti nes are to be avoided, even the . horus parts need concentration. The dancers h~d to be supported in s ingin g by lhe choru' in a few in stan ces. They have p a.rticulMly enj yed the fist-rai sing in Revolte. W

costume plot and visited a number of cos tume warehou ses. We decided that the se tting would be tLlrn of th e century 1900. The opening scenes Wl~re set in Henley at the regatta, thi s created an oppo rtwli ty ·for lovely large ladi es' hats (see photo of Euryd ice clnd Orpheus wi th violin) and boaters for the men. Th Olympian Court of Jupiter would be s imiLar to Edward V Ir. Our costum e d '· ig ner has decided to make e labora te cos tum 5 for Pluto (with tai l), Cu pid an d Diana. Offenb ach created some delightful cha racter which are omitted in th e lI. lIa l amateur version, the Love Police (see photo). Our co tum e des ig ner design ed and m ade a ll these costu mes.

MARCH Th", last few wee ks are always fraught wi th prob le ms as th e opening delte ilpproaches. It is now time for all th e vario us sections to come together, as up until now princ.ipa!" dancers, a nd choru s have to some extent rehea rsed separately. It alwa ys comes as a su rprise to chorus members how fast a production progresses, the time betwee n numbers is all to often very short. This opera is in four acts and I decided to make ac tion continuoLls be twee n ,lcts w ith only one interval. Th.e only an swer i.s to go for c,)mplet run­ th.roughs 50 the cas t a pp rec iate w here they have to be a t any onf2 tim e ilnd als o wh, t they are w earing.

APRIL We are lucky in theatre hire in th a t we can get into the th eatre for three weeks which i - a lu, ury. This tim e is in se t used building, etc. I us ually hnve an as ista n t d irector who is most im portant in th e closing s tages of a prod uction. There arc a numbe r of tasks to be fulfi lied which require the at tention of th e director so th e assistant rehears es with the actors w hist 1 can no\'V conce ntrat e o.n th e production p rob lems.


SOUND, SET, AND MU~, Ligh ting must be consid ered from the s tar t. hi s is a single -set produ ction with lots of mood chan ges. A syrilpathetic lighting­ plo t i <;5en ti al. I us uall y mark up my book d uring rehearsal and will prese nt this as a wor king plot for th e li ghting m ana ge r. We spent m a n I hours d i CUSS ing changes b fo r ri gging to . ave nergy and tim C'. [ had a ve ry ex perie nced technici n an d re lied on his periCllC '. This opera has many varied . enes to be lit, for ex amp le, Pluto's d scen t into I-la d es. rp heus' aSCl!n t to Olym p ia, the tria l of Orphe us in H ad s. J designed the set myself as I kn ew thi s wDu ld b th e on ly way to get my requirem ents. I n ee ded the utmost s p ace the s tage would permit. Th set was very simply a box with rostrn s ides and back for choru s ingi ng . J found that the rostra w ere id ea l to keep the chorus in place a nd no t w and er all ove r the place. l he s id e flats were embe llished wi th cut-outs of cu p ids a nd devil 's heads to recrea te a baroque theatre.

This opera req ui red as large an ordles tra as po ·ibl e. We have a sm all pit a t the Kenton, but w e m an aged to. fit in ten p layers with two on sid e wings. Ou r M.D. had th e onerou s tas k of recrniting them!

ted1nician who also provided extra thunder-bl'lsts, e tc.

Orpheus proved a milestone for the sDciety. We all proved tha t we could do it. The revi ews from the papers w ere very complimentary. We all learn t a lot about new s inging techniques, dancing, discipline The main problem in staging an opera is th a t there is more to learn for everyone, especia lly the chorus. As w ith a ny production th secre t is plann ing. Work out before you s tart wha t you want the chorus to do itt all times. 1 found it be neficial to kee p th e voices toge ther, e.g. the ·oprcmos in one group, especially if some are Instead of ine xpe rienced. concentra ting on individuals I w as able to block in groups. By using specific area · for chorus J h ad the main centra l acti ng areas free for pri ncip als and action. J w o u ld recommend any direc tor 10 king for a new challen ge to resea rch and find out if th ere are any othe r trans lations of these class ics, mus ic has been around a lot longer th~ n the 20th century.






Publicity is a most im po rtant part of any p roduction. Ou r pub licist w as tasked w ith the problem of P , 'enting our opera to Henley as a fun show. We came up w ith a poster of a smiling nymp h pouring wine (see ...). Since all of the cas t have to sing J decid ed th a t the best approa ch was to mic up the comp lete s tag e instead of indivi dual singers. I had the services of an ex-BBC

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Orpheus In The Underworld - June 2000  

Mike Huntington's notes on Henley Amateur Operatic & Dramatic Society's production of Orpheus In the Underworld by Jacques Offenback in a ne...