Discover Orpheus in the Underworld

Offenbach’s operetta is a satire of the famous Orpheus myth and features the popular ‘Can-can’.

The reluctant Orpheus can rescue Eurydice from the underworld, on the condition he does not turn to look back at her. On their way out, however, Jupiter (who has since fallen in love with Eurydice) scares him into turning back. Eurydice vanishes back into the underworld and everyone is thrilled with the result.



Act I  London, 1957

Orpheus and Eurydice fall in love, marry, and are soon expecting their first child. Disaster strikes, and the young couple cannot comprehend the tragedy that has befallen them. Public Opinion arrives in a black cab and offers Eurydice a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on.

Eurydice begs Public Opinion to drive her off to the countryside. There she meets Aristaeus, a handsome shepherd and beekeeper (who is actually Pluto, the god of Hades, in disguise). Eurydice is instantly attracted to him.

Orpheus arrives and also meets with Pluto (now dressed as a Salesman). Pluto tells him that he saw Eurydice earlier – with Aristaeus. Orpheus vows to kill his rival. Pluto offers Orpheus a box of poisonous snakes.

Orpheus and Eurydice meet. He tells her that he knows about Aristaeus; they argue bitterly before she throws her wedding ring at him.

Pluto, once again disguised as Aristaeus, coaxes Eurydice into the cornfield. She is bitten by a snake, at which point Aristaeus reveals his true identity – Pluto! Before she dies her welcome death, Eurydice leaves a note for Orpheus. Pluto and Eurydice set off for Hell.

When Orpheus returns, he discovers Eurydice’s note and collapses in relief. No more grief, confusion or pain. Public Opinion reminds him that he must do the right thing: he must go to Olympus and beg Jupiter to help get Eurydice back.

Act II  On Mount Olympus

The gods stir from their slumbers. When the goddess Diana’s arrival is announced by a loud blast on her hunting horn, they soon wake up. She recounts to them her encounter with the mortal Acteon.

Eurydice’s abduction has come to Jupiter’s attention. The gods assume Jupiter is responsible as his dalliances with mortals are legendary. They accuse him of being a hypocrite and are furious with him for preventing their fun whilst he is having all the fun himself. On this occasion, however, Jupiter is blameless and he dispatches Cupid down to Hell to fetch Pluto.

Cupid returns with Pluto. Jupiter accuses Pluto of taking Eurydice. Heaven and Hell shake at the hypocrisy of Jupiter’s words: mortals and gods alike have lost their faith in him. Revolution is in the air and the gods now want Pluto to be in charge.

Cupid announces the arrival of Orpheus and Public Opinion at Mount Olympus. When Orpheus sings of his longing for Eurydice, the gods are moved. Orpheus confirms it was indeed Pluto who abducted Eurydice. Jupiter resolves to descend to Hell in order to ensure justice is done, and all the other gods decide to follow him there.

Act III  In Hell

Pluto’s servant John Styx leads Eurydice through the Underworld and locks her in a cell.

Distraught, Eurydice lashes out at Pluto and rejects the advances of drunken Styx. Styx boasts to her of his status when alive, and, admits that he now has to drink himself into oblivion in order to take orders from Pluto. When Jupiter and Pluto arrive, Styx hastily hides Eurydice. Jupiter searches the cell for Eurydice in vain, until he notices something peeping out from under the bed. He says nothing but intends to return alone later to investigate. Pluto leads Jupiter off to the party he is throwing for the gods.

Eurydice emerges from her hiding-place. A swarm of bee-ghosts warn her about Jupiter’s intentions towards her. Jupiter returns in the form of a fly, enters Eurydice’s cell and begins to seduce her. Eventually, he reveals his true identity. He declares that he wants her all for himself and promises to take her to Olympus. They leave for Pluto’s party.

Styx and Pluto return. When they can’t find Eurydice, Pluto realises that Jupiter has snatched her.

Act IV

A riotous Bacchanal is in full swing. All the gods are drunk. Dressed as a Baccante, Eurydice is persuaded to perform the Song of Bacchus. Jupiter forces the gods to dance a stately minuet until Eurydice leads them all in a wild can-can.

Having distracted everyone, Jupiter and Eurydice attempt to make their escape but their path is blocked by Pluto. Eurydice accuses Pluto of exploiting her sadness and she breaks down in renewed grief. Both Jupiter and Pluto laugh at her – at the end of the day, they are both on the same side. While Jupiter still intends to take her to Olympus, Pluto vengefully reminds Jupiter of the promise he made to Orpheus: that he would return Eurydice to him.

Eurydice hears the distant sound of Orpheus’ violin. He enters, accompanied by Public Opinion. Orpheus’ music heals the wounds in his and Eurydice’s relationship and the couple reaffirm their love. All sense the energy and truth of the couple’s love for one another and the gods toast their future happiness.

Just as the couple are about to leave Hell, jealous Jupiter imposes a condition: Orpheus must walk ahead of his wife and not look back to check she’s following him. Disobey and she will be lost to him forever. Orpheus and Eurydice start out for home when Jupiter uses a thunderbolt to startle Orpheus, who turns abruptly and cannot help but look at Eurydice, who then vanishes. Pluto thinks she will be his again, but in fact she’s been promised to Bacchus. While Public Opinion consoles Orpheus, Eurydice leads the gods in a frenzied dance. After a fireball explosion, all that remains are Public Opinion and Orpheus, the latter broken and bereft.

Read the introductory guide to Orpheus in the Underworld