Orpheus in the Underworld

A ballet in Three Acts
Based on the Offenbach Operetta
First performed
28 January 1982
CAPAB Ballet
in the NICO Opera House
Cape Town - South Africa

Pluto and Eurydice
Pluto and Eurydice

Music: Jacques Offenbach
Musical arrangement: Michael Tuffin
Decor & Costumes: Peter Cazalet
Evening coats by Dicky Longhurst


The Legend

Pluto, god of Hades - the Underworld - falls in love with Eurydice, wife of Orpheus, and lures her to his kingdom. To bring her back to earth Orpheus has to lead her out of the Underworld, but the gods of Olympus order him not to look back to see if she is following him. He is unable to obey their command and as a result Eurydice must remain in Hades.

The Operetta

Offenbach turned the legend into a satirical operetta. Orpheus' marriage to Eurydice is not a happy one so that when she is abducted by Pluto, Orpheus is delighted. However, Public Opinion demands that he tries to bring her back.


The Ballet

We have set the ballet in the late Twenties / early Thirties, turning Pluto into the head of the Mafia-type Underworld and Public Opinion into Calliope, Orpheus' mother, with Offenbach himself keeping an eye on the proceedings.

Notes by Michael Tuffin

Ballet lovers familiar with Offenbach's operetta will find much of the music used. Naturally, as we have retained the notion that Orpheus is a violin teacher, we have used his famous violin solo. I have also used some of the ballet music from Orpheus which is rarely performed nowadays. The operetta, Orpheus in the Underworld opened at the Bouffes-Parisiens theatre on 21 October 1858. The rest of the music for the ballet was taken from La Grande Duchess de Gerolstein (1867), one of Offenbach's great successes and still popular in France today; La Princess de Trebizonde (1869); La Belle Helene (1864); La Perichole (1868); Genevieve de Brabant (1859 and 1868); Les Brigands (1873), plus one or two snippets from other works.

Many of the numbers in the ballet are mixtures of two or more melodies from different operattas. In fact, the most difficult decision that were made when preparing the score for the ballet were those concerning what melodies by this glorious of tunesmiths not to use.


The Story


Act 1 : Hotel le Grand

Orpheus and Eurydice's marriage is not happy, so that when Pluto seduces and abducts Eurydice both she and Orpheus is delighted. However, when Calliope, Orpheus's mother, arrives and discovers what has happened, she is very shocked and demands, in the interest of mythology, that Orpheus goes to Olympus to seek assistance in claiming back Eurydice from the Underworld. Naturally, his mother insists on accompanying him.

Act 2 : Olympus

On Olympus life is a little boring and when Pluto reveals his latest conquest, Eurydice, it offers a welcome though somewhat unsettling diversion. Orpheus and Calliope arrive and Jupiter assents to her request for aid, whereupon all the gods and godesses decide to accompany them to Hades, the Underworld.

Act 3 : Hades

Eurydice is now the star of the Underworld's night club. Just when all are enjoying themselves, Calliope spoils their fun by reminding Jupiter of their purpose. He commands Orpheus to leave, followed by Eurydice. But Offenbach intervenes and everything is thrown into confusion.


Click on the links on the left for more information on other ballets