Orpheus Revisited

Never let it be said of your doting correspondent, that he flinched from undergoing the tortures of Hades on behalf of the edification and uplift of his loyal readers. He did just that last Sunday afternoon, in fact, forsaking domestic comforts and bright sunshine to join the paltry crowds at the scene of that notorious crime, the Music Center Opera’s current production of Offenbach’s “Orpheus in the Underworld.”
Why? News was out that Dom DeLuise, whose casting in the role of Public Opinion had been the major flaw in the production on opening night, had been replaced, at least temporarily, by one Roderick Cook. That {ITAL had {ENDITAL to be an improvement worth checking out. Besides, despite what you think, no critic worth his word processor gets that much pleasure out of running his verbal bulldozer over honest human effort. Perhaps I was out of sorts that first night; perhaps {ITAL they {ENDITAL were.
Sorry, no such luck. Mr. Cook, best known as the author and star of “Oh, Coward,”  at least makes the effort to take aim at some of Offenbach’s music, and often comes within hailing distance of the right pitch. But his prissy-Brit mannerisms have no more to do with his part — the crucial role in the whole work, I remind you, the character who stands in for the librettists’ and Offenbach’s visions as they skewed the ancient legend around to fit the tastes of Belle-Epoque Paris — than Dom DeLuise’s epic vulgarity.
Whatever he might have accomplished on his own, Mr. Cook must play along with all the {ITALshtik {ENDITAL that designer Gerald Scarfe and director Peter Schifter have contrived for the role. Worst of all is that ugly, bloated, stage-filling bustle-shaped conveyance on which he must ride.
There was, in fact, one definite change for the better at Sunday’s performance, David Eisler (remember? Candide?) as Pluto, with his clean young-sounding tenor and his superior diction replacing the nanny-goat squalling of Ronald Stevens, who was reported as ailing. Grateful we must be for such small favors; yet nothing can save this misbegotten misrepresention, over-all,  of the Offenbach genius.
Once again, however, the glorious moment of Michael Smith’s Act-2 entrance as Mercury, done up in silver and truly mercurial, contained the concentrated energy, dash and immense good humor that the show otherwise lacked. I would suggest to management, in fact, that   Mr. Smith and his all-but-airborne performance be preserved and inserted into all operas from now on, whenever affairs on stage seem without hope.
I  neglected to mention the rest of the dancing in my first review; after my second visit I remembered why. They can can that can-can.