Offenbach, Orpheus and Operetta - Director Emma Rice on Orpheus in the Underworld

22nd October 2019 in News

We spoke to Emma Rice, the director of our production of Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld, to hear insights into her work process:

What will we see in this production that is quintessential ‘Emma Rice’?

There will be plenty of classic ‘Emma Rice’ in this production! Expect balloons and lots of them! I love how balloons make you think of parties and childhood, of being weightless and how they have a hint of nostalgia. All these things work brilliantly for my 1950s telling of the story. There’s a wealth of wonderful characters ranging from a know-it-all taxi driver to an irritating Cupid, a balloon-popping stripper and a glamourous collection of poolside Gods – but this production will be more than just fun. I have also brought some heart to this ancient myth, hinting at why Orpheus and Eurydice have become estranged. In this production, during the overture, we witness them losing a child and immediately our hearts break for them. I love fun and theatricality, but there always needs to be a truth and a ‘why’ when you tell a story. I think we have found this in the damaged heart of their young marriage.

What are the challenges of this opera to you as a director?

Opera itself is my challenge! I usually freewheel my way through the casting and creation of my theatre work paying little attention to what is expected or required. However, opera has requirements that cannot, and must not, be ignored! So, I am busy brushing up my music reading skills and learning lots about the human voice and how it works onstage and off. I relish the challenge of working with such amazing performers and to pushing the boundaries of my own musical-theatrical language.

How do you hope your audience will feel when they leave the Coliseum after this production?

I hope the audience will feel like dancing and singing at the end of this production! I hope they will feel exhilarated and entertained, politically thrilled and emotionally moved. I want it to be an overwhelming experience and one that will vibrate with life, loss and love.

What do you think Offenbach tells us in this telling of the Orpheus myth?

Offenbach wrote this operetta as a satire of the Orpheus myth, poking fun at the Gods and by extension, those in power. I think, with our bold re-telling, we are able to harness his attack on power and turn our angry gaze to the sexual predators of today and the insidious and systematic abuse of women. With a gentle glee we will take on the oppressors and say ‘no more’.

Orpheus is told not to look back, but what do you look back on and see as the key turning-point in your career that has brought you to direct this production at ENO?

The turning point was simple. Daniel Kramer! We met at The Globe and immediately knew we were creative soul mates. He made a fabulous production for me at The Globe and I hope, I will return the favour at the ENO!

Sum up for us in three words what this production means to you.

Love, endurance, romance and rage. Sorry! That was 4!

English National Opera’s Orpheus in the Underworld runs until 13 November at the London Coliseum