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University of Iowa News Release


April 17, 2009

Image: 19th-century caricature of Offenbach

UI Opera Theater presents Offenbach's 'Orpheus in the Underworld' May 1-3

The University of Iowa Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater will present one of the most delightfully satirical operettas of all time, Jacques Offenbach's "Orpheus in the Underworld," at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, May 1 and 2, and 2 p.m. Sunday, May 3, in the Englert Theatre in downtown Iowa City.

The production, under the direction of guest artist Gary Briggle, will feature a cast of students. The UI Chamber Orchestra will be conducted by William LaRue Jones, UI director of orchestral studies, and graduate student Andrea Molina. Scene and costume design are by Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer of the UI Performing Arts Production Unit.

The source of Offenbach's famous "Can-Can," "Orpheus in the Underworld" is a satire on the Greek legend of Orpheus, the musician who charms Pluto with his singing in order to rescue his wife from Hades. In Offenbach's irreverent version, Orpheus writes music no one wants to hear; his wife, Eurydice, is in love with someone else; and Orpheus is delighted when she dies but is shamed by Public Opinion (a character in the operetta) into going after her.

Spurred on by Public Opinion, Orpheus enlists Jupiter and the other gods into helping him find Eurydice. The gods, bored by the endless ambrosia on Mt. Olympus, decide to help -- especially Jupiter, who has his own eye on the lovely Eurydice. Pluto tries to hide Eurydice so that he can keep her for himself, but Cupid and the Love Police intervene. In the end, Eurydice ends up with Jupiter, much to the outrage of Public Opinion but to the delight of Orpheus, Jupiter -- and Eurydice.

The operetta had a history almost as entertaining as the work itself. In 1858 Offenbach was running his own theater devoted to musical comedy, the "Bouffes-Parisiens," but deep in debt. After a series of comic miniatures that brilliantly spoofed the culture of the day but didn't pay the bills, he tried a two-act work.

When "Orpheus in the Underworld" opened Oct. 21, it made little impact. However, early the next year the poet Jules Jann did Offenbach a great favor by denouncing the operetta as a "profanation of holy and glorious antiquity" and claiming that the libretto plagiarized his own work. The scandal quickly caught the public's attention and the rest of the performances promptly sold out.

Briggle characterizes "Orpheus in the Underworld" as "the first great operetta, and the model for all future operettas, whether French, English or Austrian . . . The elusive alchemy of musical satire is sustained throughout, with comic lyrics set to sophisticated melodies, and the delicate parody remains aloft, despite risqué and riotous silliness. The score remains unmatched, although Offenbach penned many enduring masterworks."

Starring in the UI production will be Lynn Maxfield as Orpheus and Christine Robertson as Eurydice; Paul Morel as Jupiter and Chaz'men Williams-Ali as Pluto; and Vivien Shotwell as Public Opinion. The other gods will be portrayed by Marianne Sadée, Allison Czer, Allison Holmes, Ivo Suarez, Sara Butwinick, Clara Presser and James Stipanowich. Greg Zawada will appear as Aristeus, a beekeeper, and Bryan Ross as John Styx, assistant to Pluto.

Tickets for "Orpheus in the Underworld" are $20, $10 for UI students and youth, and $16 for seniors. Tickets are available from the Englert Box Office, 221 E. Washington in downtown Iowa City. The box office is open 1 to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday. For phone orders or additional ticket information call the box office at 319-688-2653.

Briggle is a versatile singer/actor, director and teacher with more than 30 years professional experience in various forms of musical theater. As an actor, he won the Carbonell Award from the South Florida Critics Circle and the Theatre League of South Florida for his productions of Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. He performed as a member of the Minnesota Opera Company resident ensemble, appearing in premieres and standard repertory operas. For more information visit Briggle's Web page at North Dakota State University, where he was guest director

A UI music alumnus, Jones joined the faculty of the School of Music in 1997 as director of the University Symphony and director of orchestral studies. The founding director of the internationally recognized Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies of Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn., Jones has appeared as a guest conductor with professional, festival, collegiate and student ensembles throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia. For more information visit

Margaret Wenk-Kuchlbauer is the resident designer for the UI Division of Performing Arts Production Unit. Since 1980 she has designed scenery and costumes for most UI Opera Theater Productions and UI Dance Galas as well as a variety of shows for the UI Theatre Department and Iowa Summer Rep. Recent design contributions to the Martha Ellen Tye Opera Theater include "La Boheme," "Trial by Jury" and "Viva La Mamma."

The mission of the Englert Civic Theatre, Inc., is to own, maintain and operate the Englert Theatre as a community arts center and performance space, enhancing the vitality of Iowa City's historic downtown by preserving its last historic theater. Visit the Englert's Web page at

The Martha-Ellen Tye Opera Theater and the School of Music are units of the Division of Performing Arts in the UI College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

For UI arts information and calendar updates, visit To receive UI arts news by e-mail, go to and click the link "Join or Leave ACR News," then follow the instructions.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Arts Center Relations, 300 Plaza Centre One, Suite 351, Iowa City, IA 52242-2500

MEDIA CONTACT: Peter Alexander, 319-384-0072 (office) 319-541-2846 (cell),