It could be argued that more of Berlin comes to Salzburg than Paris in Barrie Kosky's new production of Offenbach's Orpheus in the Underworld for the Austrian festival. It is as if a bit of the German capital's Komische Oper, where Kosky is the Intendant and has fostered a distinctive style of presenting operetta, has transported itself to Salzburg's Haus für Mozart. But it is none the worse for that, and reminds us that Offenbach, whose bicentenary falls this year, was a German Jew who happened to have made his career in Paris.

Martin Winkler (Jupiter) and Kathryn Lewek (Eurydice) © Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus
Martin Winkler (Jupiter) and Kathryn Lewek (Eurydice)
© Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus

Further to emerging more as Orpheus in der Unterwelt than Orphée aux enfers, there's a cosmopolitan approach to language throughout. The sung text remains in the original French but, a smattering of Italian and 'Anglo-Saxon' apart, the dialogue is in German, voiced throughout by the star of German stage and screen Max Hopp in the role of John Styx, complete with all necessary (and unnecessary) sound effects, while the singers mouth their words. This 'dubbing', as it were, proves a neat way round the varying spoken German abilities in a cast with representatives of some dozen nationalities, and was virtuosically performed. The exception is Anne Sofie von Otter's Public Opinion, who voices her own prologue in Swedish in the character of a moralising pastor's wife, while Styx, acting as narrator in the guise of Death, provides a running German translation.

Martin Winkler (Jupiter) and ensemble © Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus
Martin Winkler (Jupiter) and ensemble
© Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus

Kosky's staging itself is a fast-paced procession of visual gags, outrageous costumes and gender-bending song-and-dance routines, culminating in the full display of the Galop infernal, otherwise known as the can-can, with costume appendages provided by a well-known Austrian purveyor of crystals. But the satire of the original is still to the fore, even if the idea of a bourgeois audience laughing at its own marital foibles might no longer be the core target. The gods are revealed as all too human, the Underworld is where one goes to party, and in a modern twist to Offenbach's ending, Eurydice herself spurns all Romantic advances and chooses to remain a bacchante, an independent woman of pleasure/leisure.

Joel Prieto (Orphée) and Kathryn Lewek (Eurydice) © Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus
Joel Prieto (Orphée) and Kathryn Lewek (Eurydice)
© Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus

And especially with the role as ravishingly sung as it was here by American coloratura Kathryn Lewek, Eurydice is without a doubt the operetta's leading character. Orpheus himself has a perversely minor presence, though Spanish tenor Joel Prieto had fun with the self-obsessed violinist who all too happily turns around to lose his hated wife a second time. The rabble of deities was lead by the conniving Jupiter of Martin Winkler, the latest of this genius singer-actor's comic creations, at his best as a libidinous fly trying to get Eurydice into bed with him. Marcel Beekman was no mean rival either, as the devilish, duplicitous Pluto, and there were delicious contributions from Nadine Weissman as Cupid, Frances Pappas as Juno and Peter Renz as Mercury.

Dancers © Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus
Dancers
© Salzburg Festival | Monika Rittershaus

Otto Pichler's choreography and the dazzling dance troupe played a leading role, not just in the can-can, but also in a witty number for Pluto/Aristeos's swarm of bees and a spectacular number closing Act 1 that involved the whole cast, not least the versatile choral singers of Vocalconsort Berlin. In the pit, under the persuasive baton of Enrique Mazzola, was none other than the Vienna Philharmonic, trading on its reputation of its New Year repertoire maybe, but with playing that was both sinuey and suave. It will be interesting to see how this production transfers to its co-producing houses in Berlin (the Komische, inevitably) and Düsseldorf in a year or two's time.

*****