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Performance Programs > 2023-24 Season >  Voice & Opera

Orpheus in the Underworld (Orphée aux enfers) 

composed by Jacques Offenbach

libretto by  Hector Crémieux and Ludovic Halévy

Department of Voice and the University Symphony Orchestra
November 2 – November 5, 2023 • The Power Center for the Performing Arts

Now, you’ve heard the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice in various forms, but get ready for something completely different. This time, we’ve got a cheeky twist for you, courtesy of French composer Jacques Offenbach. Orpheus is not the divine son of Apollo but instead a lackluster music teacher, and his marriage to Eurydice is far from harmonious. Eurydice secretly loves Aristée, who is actually Pluto in disguise. As Aristée serenades with a pastoral ode to sheep,  Eurydice suspects foul play, believing Orpheus plans to harm him. In reality, Orpheus and Pluto scheme to eliminate her. Pluto dupes Eurydice into the deadly trap, revealing his true form as she succumbs in. They descend to the Underworld, leaving a note for Orpheus. Just as Orpheus begins to revel in his newfound freedom, Public Opinion storms in, threatening to besmirch his name unless he goes to the Underworld to rescue his wife. Reluctantly, Orpheus embarks on his epic quest to bring Eurydice back from the depths, setting the stage for Offenbach’s delightful operatic journey.

Here’s the kicker: We’re singing this in French, but don’t worry, the dialogue is in good ol’ English. The production is set in the late 1950s, right in the eve of John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign – and trust us, it’s going to be a blast. So, mark your calendars, dust off your dancing shoes, and get ready to twist, groove, and laugh your way through “Orpheus in the Underworld.” It’s a special spin you won’t want to miss! 

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Creative Team

Brian Garman

Mo Zhou

Scenic Designer
Kevin Judge

Costume Designer
Sarah M Oliver

Lighting Designer
Marie Yokoyama+

Hair and Makeup Designer
Brittney Crinson

Peter Smith
, Daniel Weber

Diction Coach
Timothy Cheek

Bohuslava (Slávka) Jelínková

Resident Intimacy Choreographer and Cultural Consultant
Raja Benz

Karin Waidley

Assistant Conductor
Luca Antonucci

Chorus Director
Sydney Mukasa

Production Stage Manager
Abby Schneck+

Calling Stage Manager
Esmay Pricejones

‡SMTD Student

+SMTD Guest Artist



Spencer VanDellen

Amante Pando Girard

Goitsemang Lehobye

Public Opinion
Daiyao Zhong

Alexander Nick


Tyrese Byrd

Jack Morin

Sohyun Cho

Public Opinion
Qirong Liang

Carson Arcuri

All Performances

Hannah Yan

Ian Pathak

Pelagia Pamel

Yongxin Zhou

Veronica Koz

Maggie Reed

John Styx
Loren Reash-Henz

Thomas Long

Benjamin Isyk

Amelie Besch*, Jake Bullard, Kyleigh Burtley*, Ian Danaher, Mira Grayton*, Jamiyah Hudson*, Allison Lange*, Molly Levin*, Isaiah Liggins, Brendan Lockhart, Mark Pettaway III, Amber Sosa*, Brooke Studebaker*

* indicates Can-Can Dancer


Brian Garman

Assistant Conductor
Luca Antonucci^

Violin I
Andrew Choi**, Erin Cho, Angela Lee, Kirsten Lee, Matt Xu, Cara Wunder

Violin II
Cameron Jeppson*, Jordan Bartel, Zoe Fong, Liana Fonseca,
Ian Stripling Jenson, Anna Linder

Margot Cunningham*, Mateo Calderon,
Alondra Damian-Noyola,
Diego Mieres

Maxwell Remmer*,
Nathaniel Hagan,
Cal Walrath

Double Bass
Samuel Stover*,
James Gold

Abi Middaugh,
Alexis Phinney

Selina Langfeldt

Jacqueline Groves,
Nathan Rodriquez

Eduardo Martinez

Gavin Ard

Caroline Finamore,
Zachariah Reed

Bass Trombone
Chris Tam

David Wang

Rachel Richards

^The Sunday, November 5 performance was conducted by
assistant conductor Luca Antonucci.


Assistants to the Creative Team

Assistant Director
Rosanne Lee

Assistant Scenic Designer
Audrey Tieman

Assistant Lighting Designer
Sydney Geysbeek

Assistant Costume Designer
Cole Carrico

Assistant Dramaturgs
Abigail Labbé, Alexander Nick

Production Crew

1st ASMs Esther Hwang, Maya Liu

2nd ASMs Evan Kiel, Fabian Rihl, and Isabelle Hopf

2nd ASM (Observer) Lleyton Allen

Assistant Master Electrician Ethan Hoffman

Assistant Properties Manager Dallas Fadul

Guest Scenic Artist  Violet Flores

Sound Engineer Al Hurschman

Shop Crews

Theatrical Lighting  Shira Baker, Abi Farnsworth, Sydney Geysbeek, Ethan Hoffman, Elianna Kruskal, Brandon Malin, Megan Mondek, Christian Mulville, Gabriela Ribeiro Znamensky, Kathleen Stanton-Sharpless, William Webster, Miles Zoellick

Painting  Gilayah McIntosh, Bella Rowlison, Martha Sprout, Seri Stewart, Lauren Streng, Ellie Vice, Amber Walters, Angela Wu & Theatre 250/252/262 students

Props  Eliza Anker, Danielle Bekas, Andy Blatt, Madysen Casey, Aquila Ewald, Dallas Fadul, Audrey Hollenbaugh, Lucy Knas, Teresa Morales, Charlotte Stallings, Audrey Tieman & Theatre 250/252 students

Scenery  Marium Asghar, Juliet Bornholdt, Andy Blatt, Anna Forberg, Miles Hionis, Hannah Kryzhan, Michael Russell, Sophia Severance, Lauren Streng, Eliza Vassalo & Theatre 250/252/262 students

Costumes  Maya Liu, Esmay Pricejones, Kaytlin Sanchez, Ellie Van Engen & Theatre 250/252/262 students

Production Office  Briana Barker, Justin Comini, Estie Hwang

Running Crew

Light Board Operator Shelby Holloway

Follow Spot Operators Tate Zeleznik, Morgan Gomes

Supertitles Operator Wes Mason

Deck Crew Chief/Electrician William Webster

Scenery Deck Crew Diamond Na, Hannah Kryzhan

Props Deck Crew Chloe (Seoyeon) Yoo^, Banks Krause, Emily Hauer

Wardrobe Crew Mila McCoy^, Cristina Benn, Aspen Kinomoto, Emily Weddle

Hair and Makeup Crew Javier Torres, Cora Vanfaasen

^=Crew Head

Design & Production Faculty Advisors

Head of Design & Production  Christianne Myers

Stage Management  Nancy Uffner

Scenic Design  Jungah Han, Kevin Judge

Costume Design  Christianne Myers, Sarah M. Oliver

Lighting Design  Jess Fialko

Sound Design  Henry Reynolds

Staff Mentors

Brittany Crinson, Heather Hunter, Chad Hain, Beth Sandemaier

Department of Voice

Scott Piper

Opera Faculty
Timothy Cheek, Kirk Severtson, Matthew Thompson, Mo Zhou

Voice Faculty
Freda Herseth, Stephen Lusmann, Caitlin Lynch, Amanda Majeski,
Rose Mannino, Stanford Olsen,
Scott Piper, George Shirley,
Louise Toppin, Daniel Washington, Stephen West

Associated Faculty
Antonio Cuyler, Caroline Helton

Distinguished Visiting Artist
Thomas Hampson

Professors Emeriti
Willis Patterson, Carmen Pelton, George Shirley

University Productions Administrative Staff

Executive Director
Jeffrey Kuras

Sr Administrative Specialist
Christine Eccleston

Sr Administrative Assistant
Nathan Carrillo

Information Systems Manager
Henry Reynolds

Facilities Manager
Shannon Rice

Performance Halls
House Manager
Kelley Krahn

Lead Backstage Operations Manager
Dane Racicot

Senior Backstage Operations Manager
David Pickell

Backstage Operations Managers
Tiff Crutchfield, Alex Gay, Yvette Kashmer, Robbie Kozub

University Productions Production Staff

Production Manager
Paul Hunter

Assistant Production Manager
Michelle Williams-Elias

Technical Director (Walgreen)
Richard W. Lindsay Jr.

Theatrical Scenery Manager
Chad Hain

Lead Scenic Carpenter
Devin Miller

Scenic Carpenter
Heather Udowitz

Charge Scenic Artist
Beth Sandmaier

Associate Theatrical Paint Manager
Madison Stinemetz

Theatrical Properties Manager
Patrick A. Drone

Associate Theatrical Properties Manager
Danielle Keys

Senior Properties Artisan
Dan Erickson

Visiting Theatrical Hair and Makeup Manager
Brittany Crinson

Theatrical Lighting Manager
Heather Hunter

Associate Theatrical Lighting Manager
Jorrey Calvo

Sound Designer/Engineer
Henry Reynolds

Costume Shop Manager
Laura Brinker

Assistant Costume Shop Manager
Leslie Ann Smith

Lead Cutter/Draper
Tj Williamson

Seth Gilbert, Sarah Havens

Rene Plante

Theatrical Stitcher
Marcia Grace

Lead Costume Crafts Artisan
Elizabeth Gunderson

Costume Stock Manager
Theresa Hartman

Wardrobe Manager
Rossella Human

Theatrical Properties Stock and Tech Coordinator
Katherine Kreutz


Act I – 1st Tableau: In late 1950s suburban America, on the cusp of the 1960 presidential election, the uninspired musician Orpheus is ensnared in a lackluster marriage with his wife, Eurydice. Her affections have strayed to Aristée, a charming shepherd and honey merchant who is secretly Pluto, the Mafia King of the Underworld. Pluto engineers Eurydice’s demise with a venomous serpent, leaving both Eurydice and Orpheus strangely content. Public Opinion urges Orpheus to save his wife.

Act I – 2nd Tableau: At an opulent waterfront estate in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, following a night of debauched festivities, the elite godlike families are abruptly awakened by Diana. She bemoans Actaeon’s sudden disappearance, and Jupiter reveals he transformed Actaeon into a stag to safeguard her reputation. Mercury reports Pluto’s return from the Underworld with an enigmatic woman. The gods revolt against Jupiter’s dreary rule and expose his salacious liaisons. The arrival of Orpheus and Public Opinion compels the privileged crowd to comply, and they embark on a journey to Las Vegas.


Act II – 3rd Tableau: In a clandestine boudoir at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Eurydice, held captive by Pluto, is tended to by her inebriated butler, John Styx, who laments his lost kingship. Jupiter, disguised as a golden fly, rendezvous with Eurydice and discloses his desires. Pluto chastises John Styx as they prepare for a party.

Act II – 4th Tableau: Within the VIP lounge of the Sands Hotel and Casino, a colossal party ensues as the gods arrive in Las Vegas. The unexpected appearance of Elvis Presley disrupts Jupiter’s plan. Amid a frenzied minuet and a spirited can-can, Pluto thwarts Jupiter’s design. As Orpheus and Public Opinion attempt to retrieve Eurydice, a lightning bolt from Jupiter forces Orpheus to look back, causing Eurydice to vanish. Jupiter declares his allegiance to the Vegas Scene, Public Opinion is displeased, Pluto abandons Eurydice, Orpheus gains freedom, and Eurydice discovers a new spark with Elvis, leading to a joyful conclusion.

The performers in this production were students in the Department of Voice and the University Symphony Orchestra. The designers for this production were students, faculty, and/or guests of SMTD. Scenery, costumes, properties, sound, and lighting were realized by the students and staff of University Productions, the producing unit of the SMTD. Thank you for supporting our educational mission.


ORPHEE AUX ENFERS (the OEK CRITICAL EDITION: 1858 VERSION) is used by arrangement with Bote & Bock Berlin and Boosey & Hawkes, publisher and copyright owner.

Additional excerpts from ORPHEE AUX ENFERS by Jacques Offenbach (pub. HEUGEL) is presented under license from G. Schirmer Inc. and Associated Music Publishers, copyright owners.

English translation for ORPHEE AUX ENFERS (JEREMY SAMS TRANSLATION) is used by arrangement with Boosey & Hawkes, Inc., Agent in the USA for Josef Weinberger, Ltd., London, publisher and copyright owner.

Hector Crеmieux (Libretto, 1828–1892) was a French dramatist whose work was heavily inspired by the politics of his day. During the revolution of February 1848, he secured a commission as lieutenant of the Garde Mobile. The turbulent French political landscape he grew up around inspired Crémieux to adapt the history of [Giovanni Luigi] Fiesco, from the German of Friedrich Schiller, for the French stage. The emperor, solicitous to bestow political patronage upon those who had been daring enough to give him support in the risky affair of December 2, rewarded Crémieux in 1852 with a clerkship in the Ministry of State. This patronage enabled him to enter upon a literary career and to exploit the financial possibilities of the Parisian stage of the second empire. Crémieux had a long and illustrious theatrical career, but to this day his most famous work remains Orpheus in the Underworld. Sadly, Crémieux committed suicide in 1892.

—Bio excerpted from Jewish Encyclopedia

Ludovic Halévy (Libretto, 1834–1908) was born in Paris. His uncle, Fromental Halévy, was a noted composer of opera; hence the double and early connection of Ludovic Halévy with the Parisian stage. In 1855, he became acquainted with the musician Offenbach. His first work was produced under the pseudonym of Jules Servières. The name of Ludovic Halévy appeared for the first time on the bills on January 1, 1856. Soon afterwards, the unprecedented run of Orpheus in the Underworld, written in collaboration with Hector Crémieux, made his name famous. Late in life, Halévy remained an assiduous frequenter of the Academy, the Conservatoire, the Comédie Française, and the Society of Dramatic Authors, but, when he died in Paris on 7 May 1908, he had produced practically nothing new for many years.

—Bio excerpted from the Opera San Jose

Jacques Offenbach (Composer, 1819–1880) is a French composer of German origins (he became a naturalized French citizen in 1860) who wrote some of the most attractive and melodious music for the stage during the middle years of the nineteenth century. While his final work, the opéra fantastique The Tales of Hoffmann, is one of the most significant French operas of the nineteenth century, Offenbach’s main achievement is in the field of operetta, in which he excelled, producing almost 100 examples. Several operettas continue to keep a place in the repertory, notably Orpheus in the Underworld and La belle Hélène, which, though based on ancient myth, mercilessly satirize Napoleon III’s Second Empire and Parisian society of the day.

—Excerpted from the English National Opera

“In short, the operetta made a mock of all the glamour that surrounded the apparatus of power.” (Kracauer 207)

Given that it is an adaptation of a classic Greek myth, Offenbach naturally baked elements of the Greek tragedies into this opera, including the chorus that acted as a collective voice to provide insight and emotional reactions to the audience for the action onstage. Hailing from the Greek dythramb, a choral hymn sung about gods and heroes, these odes served as a rhythmic bridge of social commentary between the performers and the audience. Offenbach took a different approach, however, with his version of the chorus; instead of a collective, it is a singular character, specifically named Public Opinion. Myths explore themes of moral and ethical dilemmas. Between the hubris and hamartia of the tragic heroes and heroines and gods manipulating mortal lives, these chanted or sung conversations were central to understanding the mythology. In Jacques Offenbach’s Orphée aux Enfers, Public Opinion acts as the voice of reason or the conscience that frames, moderates, and influences the action – or at least it serves as a voice that attempts to rein in the excess represented by Orpheus’ languid dismissal of his wife’s betrayal and exposes the hedonistic and mercurial nature of the ruling Olympus elite. The choice to personify this conscience as a singular individual rising up against patriarchal order in such a satirical landscape plays into the hilarity of the peeling back the glamour (and gender identity) of those in power. We may see one person, but within their voice is a critique of societal convention or perhaps a warning to power that strength lies in the unexpected.

Because Offenbach carved liberation through flouting the conventional opera of his time, in this opera bouffe, he chose to portray Public Opinion as a mezzo-soprano and as a female-identifying individual. He gave the voice of the collective Greek chorus, originally consisting of only male actors, to someone who historically was not given a voice. In a similar vein, this opera satirizes the institution of marriage, portraying it as a source of unhappiness and an obvious path for infidelity. Characters such as Venus and Eurydice actively pursue romantic fulfillment outside of their “stations.” This emphasis on female agency aligns with emerging feminist ideas of the time, as well as Offenbach’s desire to overturn entrenched social orders, as the libretto narrates from the perspectives of Eurydice and Public Opinion and portrays women who make their own choices in matters of love, relationships, and sexuality.

Towards the finale, the Can-can dance with its iconic music is shown. Originating from the working class of 1820s Paris, the Can-can started as a partner dance or a quadrille. In the partnering version, the Can-can took after the galop and the polka and did not allow for improvisation. Eventually, men started to break off and perform about a minute of solo improvisational dance. As time went on, women took the center stage with these moments, or can-cans. The Can-can was not merely a dance but a cultural phenomenon that embodied themes of female empowerment and personal freedom. While the Can-can was focused on female liberation in the 19th century, we can now view it in a more intersectional lens. This means including marginalized communities, BIPOC, and LGBTQ+ in the conversation of liberation through the art of dance. Ending this iconic opera with a crowd-pleasing dance that celebrates life and the liberation of identity reminds us that there is purpose behind the satirical take on power and glamour; it highlights that, beneath the veneer of societal conventions and grandiosity, everyone has the fundamental human desire for freedom, self-expression, and agency.

Read more from the dramaturgy team here >>

As a director, I am invariably drawn to the questions of “why then” and “why now” when embarking on a new production. This contemplative journey seeks to unearth the motivations that stirred the souls of the original creators in their specific era and, more critically, to discern how we can articulate their timeless message in the language of our present time.

Offenbach’s Orpheus in the Underworld is a masterpiece that not only captivates but also delves into the intricate socio-political tapestry of its time. What struck my curiosity was Offenbach’s turbulent relationship with personal finance during the opera’s creation. Pursued relentlessly by debt collectors and yearning for coveted commercial success, he ingeniously crafted a satire on the fabric of capitalism. The opera casts a brilliant spotlight on a world where the pursuit of wealth often overshadows moral considerations, an era where material gain supersedes all else, fostering the audacious belief that mere mortals can “play God.” The production artfully positions the realm of privilege in the spotlight, revealing that the actions of the elite more often serve the purpose of preserving their dominion over the masses than invoking divine benevolence.

Orpheus in the Underworld is a mirror that reflects not only the capricious antics of the deities but also our contemporary world. It teases out the subtleties and complexities within the upper echelons of society, a world painted in various shades of gray. In stark contrast to the categorical judgments of “Public Opinion,” the real world dances in the nuanced gray areas where the moral compass sometimes wavers.

Our production also delves into the lives of Eurydice and Orpheus, who, like many of us, are reminded by “Public Opinion” that they, as members of the middle class, are the backbone of society. But are they truly? Does “Public Opinion” genuinely wield influence over their lives, or is it merely an illusion of power?

One facet of this production that fills me with immense pride is the significant participation of undergraduate students who dare to take on leading roles. This triumph reinforces our unwavering belief that there should be no boundaries between undergraduate and graduate performance opportunities. It embodies the very ethos of our opera program, where a performer, regardless of their academic standing, finds a thriving stage on which to shine. This inclusivity stands as a testament to our commitment to nurturing and presenting talent at all levels, underscoring the cherished values that define us.

While Orpheus in the Underworld may be renowned for the infectious Can-Can, it offers much more than meets the eye. This whimsical production invites us to contemplate the interplay of wealth, privilege, and power – a theme as relevant today as it was in Offenbach’s time. I invite you to relish this performance, a fusion of amusement and intellectual stimulation, a platform for our gifted students to radiate their brilliance.

Thank you for joining us on this exhilarating journey. Enjoy the show!

Mo Zhou, Stage Director


Images coming soon!