Originally created 03/03/00

`Orpheus' lightens up opera



Imagine P.J. O'Rourke teaming with David Letterman -- political humorist meets pop-culture prankster -- to write, of all things, an opera.

The result would be something akin to Orpheus in the Underworld, which will be staged at 7:30 tonight and Saturday night and 3 p.m. Sunday at the Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre at Augusta State University.

"This is a comedy -- nothing is serious," said David Tadlock, who plays Jupiter, king of the gods. Mr. Tadlock is the visiting guest artist and a voice teacher and opera director at Clayton College and State University in Atlanta. "Put simply, this opera is opera for people who have never seen opera."

Written by Jacques Offenbach in the late 19th century, Orpheus in the Underworld uses Roman mythology as a backdrop for pop-culture digs and political satire. It has been adapted and updated countless times.

"There are a lot of references to modern-day society" in the latest version, said Joseph Redd, who plays Orpheus, a violin-playing mortal. "I don't want to give anything away, but it takes some jabs at certain current political issues and figures. That's what's great about this opera -- it's timeless."

The production is led by Linda Banister, Augusta State's opera director, who also plays Public Opinion, the pushy, human incarnate of her namesake.

Pluto, god of the underworld, is the catalyst for all the action.

"Pluto hatches a plan to get Eurydice down to hell because he thinks she's hot," said Johnny Green, who plays Pluto. "All the action and the comedy kind of stems from that. A lot of the humor is pretty adult -- it's not over-the-top or vulgar."

Eurydice is the object of everyone's affections, it seems, except her husband's. Orpheus has to be commanded by Jupiter to go to the underworld in search of his wife.

"He's into himself -- not conceited, but really couldn't care less about the rest of the universe," Mr. Redd said of Orpheus. "In the serious opera, rescuing Eurydice is a really big deal. But in this one, I don't really want to go get her. I am the voice of mortality."

"I'm a blonde, a ditz -- basically the sleaze of the show," said Barbara Hancock, a junior at Augusta State, who plays Eurydice. "I'm the focus of all this attention, and I basically just float through it. It's a very playful comedy, though, not one that takes itself too seriously."

"This opera forces people to say, `This is what we are,"' Mr. Redd said, "and then laugh at it."

On stage

What: Orpheus and the Underworld

When: 7:30 tonight and Saturday night; 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Grover C. Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre, Augusta State University, 2500 Walton Way

Admission: $10 reserved seats, $8 general admission and $6 students and seniors

Call: 737-1453

Reach John Bankston at (706) 823-3217.