No stars for ENO in crushing Orpheus review

No stars for ENO in crushing Orpheus review


norman lebrecht

October 13, 2019

Fiona Maddocks, in today’s brisk, devastating Observer review of Orpheus in the Underworld, specifies that the three stars in her rating are ‘awarded to the performers’.

Everything else about the production is awful:

Space is too limited – the gods smile occasionally – to permit too detailed an account of English National Opera’s new staging of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld (1858/74)…. Offenbach lampooned, with exquisite precision, any social or political target in his line of vision. The death of a baby was not one. This was the extraneous scene-setter in (Emma) Rice’s new version, complete with “Baby” floral wreath and tiny coffin. The image indelibly imprinted on our mind’s eye, all joy was smothered in the opening minutes. It was the prelude to a night of flat jokes and dramatic miscalculations….

Can it get much worse?



  • double-sharp says:

    This Orpheus season is being curated by Daniel Clueless, the erstwhile ‘Artistic Director’ – mysteriously permitted to remain in post after the catastrophe of The Wimmin Of Whitechapel.

    Visible proof that your career can bounce back from the Styx if Cressida Bollocks appointed you.

    If Miskimmon is wise, she will have Kramer and his coterie of klutzes banned for life from the Coliseum.

  • V.Lind says:

    Erica Jeal in The Guardian is a little warmer. Though it still sounds ghastly to me.

  • Musician says:

    Ouch! But I commend her for giving some recognition to the performers, who work hard to enact someone else’s terrible vision.

  • Esther Cavett says:

    Ms Maddox is a massive fan of (and indeed has written a book on) Harrison Birtwistle. So when in this ‘Orpheus’ series she she will no doubt be reviewing Sir Hal’s Mask of O, we’ll be reading something very different .

    • FS60103 says:

      Well, no, I expect her review will depend entirely upon the quality of the production and performance. She’s a professional. This Orpheus in the Underworld was a fiasco, and she has written accordingly.

    • Alan says:

      That may well be the case but surely you are not suggesting she will give the production a warm review just because it is a Birtwistle opera? This is a new production. The work is widely acknowledged as a modern classic but the production itself will surely be open to constructive criticism. As should the opera itself!
      I think we can trust Ms Maddocks to be impartial.

  • Former ENO supporter says:

    Exactly what was expected of a dubious ‘D’list of a production team, including former sacked ENO conductor Sian Edwards, who is as far mismatched and unsuitable as an operetta conductor as it gets……
    Surely with such un stylish and ghastly disasters as Iolanthe and The Merry Widow productions of late, (which were equally as grim and tasteless,) who would want to go and see more appalling attempts at ENO trying to present and fail at operetta?

  • double-sharp says:

    We should bear in mind that David Pountney’s staging of Orpheus in the Underworld (aka ‘Orpheus In His Underwear’, one of the most mistalculated gags in the show – the words on his -t-shirt couldn’t even be read from Row 1 of the Stalls) was one also a massive and ill-conceived catastrophe. So certain were the management of a box-office smash, that they had rostered performances across two seasons (in the unpublished schedules which opera houses make ahead of time). When box office receipts proved to be calamitous, all kinds of old shows were shunted into the yawning gaps.

    But ENO never learn. They’re always certain that their Footlights approach and Jolly Hockey-Sticks ‘humour’ will save the day??

    Not even the Can’t-Can’t could save that turkey – nor does telling the chorus to get their kit off (again) bring punters to the door.

    What were they thinking of, when they turned down Barrie Kosky? Oh, but he didn’t even go to Tiffin’s, did he?

  • Leporello says:

    So many stage directors (and managements who let them do whatever they like) are destroying opera. I feel really sorry for the singers – and the orchestras who play on regardless as if for an entirely different work.

  • Bruce says:

    Sounds terrible.

    For the singers, it sounds like something that will end up in their memoirs, in the “Worst Productions I Ever Was In” chapter.

  • Matthew says:

    I loved the ENO David Poutney version – it remains one of my all time favourite productions. Hugely entertaining and wonderfully sung….but then I’m no opera expert, just joe public. I saw it, bought the CD and listen to it regularly on iTunes. So perhaps they got something right?