Bremner provides his take on Offenbach’s ‘cheeky’ opera

Orpheus in the Underworld comes to Kelso on October 18.
Orpheus in the Underworld comes to Kelso on October 18.
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Aided and abetted by Jedburgh-based impressionist Rory Bremner, Scottish Opera will visit Kelso with a new production of Jacques Offenbach’s send up of Greek mythology, Orpheus in the Underworld.

Bremner has written a new translation of the opera, and his sharp tongue and political nous are described as a perfect match for Offenbach, who was well known for parodying the work of other composers of his day.

Originally created to satirise the government of Napoleon III’s France, Bremner’s version is updated to the present day as director Oliver Mears pokes fun at our media-mad, celebrity-obsessed world.

Bremner has previously worked on two opera librettos – Kurt Weill’s Der Silbersee (The Silver Lake) and Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

But Orpheus is the first libretto to pull together his interests in language, music and satire.

While putting together Orpheus, Bremner said: “It’s the opposite of a perfect storm, which of course puts even more pressure on me to deliver the goods. It was very important that I didn’t have another translation in my head. It’s an omertà that writers don’t nick each other’s jokes.

“Similarly with this, I didn’t want my head to be clouded with other lyrics.”

Orpheus is said to feature some of the funniest scenes and daftest situations in French opera.

“Offenbach’s riotous sense of humour and knack for catchy tunes take the characters (which include Eurydice, Jupiter, Venus, Mercury, Mars, Pluto and Public Opinion) from one ridiculous situation to another, culminating in the riotous revelry of the world-famous ‘Cancan’,” said a Scottish Opera spokesperson.

The ludicrous plot stood out when Rory met director Oliver Mears to discuss the new production.

“Out of context it’s just silly people doing silly things, so you have to somehow get beyond that,” said Rory.

The ensemble cast features Scottish Opera emerging artists Marie Claire Breen and Ross McInroy, as well as 2011 BBC Cardiff Singer of the World finalist Máire Flavin, and Nicholas Sharratt in the role of Orpheus.

Claire Haslin and Ruth Wilkinson will play for piano-accompanied performances, such as at Kelso’s Tait Hall, while Scottish Opera’s head of music Derek Clark will conduct a chamber-sized ensemble drawn from the orchestra of Scottish Opera in other concerts.

Scottish Opera’s general director Alex Reedijk said: “Distilling great opera down to a size that we can tour to smaller Scottish venues has been at the heart of what we do for 33 years and I’m pleased that we’re going back on the road this year with what’s promising to be a highly entertaining interpretation of this cheeky opera.

“We’re looking forward to see what people make of it.”

Orpheus in the Underworld opens today at the Citizens’ Theatre in Glasgow, and will visit venues across Scotland including Kelso’s Tait Hall on Tuesday, October 18 from 7.30pm.

Tickets are priced at £14 or £5 for under 26s and are available from www.ticketweb.co.uk or phone 01573 224269.

Orpheus in the Underworld is sung in English and the running time is two hours, including a 20-minute interval.