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Teachers Notes


Orpheus is based on the classical Greek myth. This story makes fascinating reading especially as Orpheus was one of the origianl Argonauts, long before all this business with the Underworld started. It's good to emphasise that Orpheus was very important in people's lives: being the one that opened the flowers, brought on the summer and made everyone feel good with the world. His state of mind, after his wife Eurydice's death, had disastrous consequences.


The following notes are in no way intended as a set of instructions to be closely adhered to but merely as a rough guide. What I will do is try to give an idea of how a music or drama teacher might put on this play, with examples of what our production was like, and before anyone assumes that we had a big budget, we actually had none. We also had to deal with a cast of over 100 children from 3 different primary schools and all the rehearsal problems that entailed! The actual performance took place in a church in London's Piccadilly, with an alter, a nativity and various huge crucifixes as a backdrop, which was less than ideal for a Greek tragedy! As regards costumes, we had black tee shirts and shorts/trousers for everyone as a basic, over which we hung a cloak (if the actor played the King or Queen) or a shawl (for Eurydice, for example). There was no set to speak of. Whatever you do, it's sure to be an improvement on our production.

The play should last about 1 hour and 15 minutes with no interval. After reading these notes some of you may choose to simply sing through the songs in class!


The Songs and Instrumental music in order of performance

The narration is not included in the running order as it may be dropped or adapted to suit the circumstances of the performance.

  • Let's Start
  • History
  • Hades
  • The Riddles
  • Hades (Reprise)
  • Journey in the Underworld
  • Pluto's Palace
  • Pluto's Entrance
  • Disappear
  • Journey in the Underworld (Reprise)
  • Orpheus' Lament
  • Death Salsa
  • Où est Orphée
  • Finale
  • Bow Music


The play begins in the dark, i.e. no light onstage. At the sound of the percussion (hihat, cow bell, claves) children drift on and sing LET'S START, a groovy little number basically telling the audience that all this happened a long time ago. You may like to choreograph a little dance routine to it or think about voicing. I happen to like the song better if it starts with a few singers and then works up to everyone singing. It's up to you. The cast eventually go off tweeting, referring, for no good reason, to the birds of Hades that peck a lump out of their victim, leave them to heal, then come back and peck that same lump out again, for all eternity. Our children particularly liked that little aspect of the story.


HISTORY leads on directly from the above and is a kind of troubadour song, telling the story of Orpheus up until the point where he goes into the Underworld to retrieve Eurydice. This lends itself quite well to being acted out. How many voices you use for each verse is again up to you, although the middle section (with the different melody), and the last verse, of course, sound more effective if lots of children are singing. The song ends with everyone getting thoroughly fed up with syncopation, and they walk off muttering.


The next section is all about Orpheus. (For our production we had 3 different Orpheuses and so I devised that the costume used, in this case a laurel and a lyre, could easily be passed from one actor to the next. Hopefully your production will not be that complicated.) There is nothing scripted at this point, but you could always have Orpheus pondering on how he will enter the Underworld if you wanted.

HADES is basically the theme used for the Underworld. It's not too long, and Orpheus could be seen to be looking for the way in. How he finds the door is very much upto to each production. Maybe let the children decide if Orpheus meets anyone/anything on the journey, e.g. decrepit old witches, weird animals, mad trees, the wind, etc., and what they say to each other.


When Orpheus knows where he's going, he should meet the Guardian of the Underworld (Cyberus - a three-headed dog) who, after a brief chat presents him with THE RIDDLES. Other riddles can, of course, be substituted: the important thing is that Orpheus should do something dramatic to pass from one world to another. The answers to these riddles are:

  1. An unborn chick
  2. Human beings
  3. The letter A


Once the third riddle is answered, the Guardian dissolves and the door of the Underworld opens to the sound of HADES (REPRISE) which leads into JOURNEY IN THE UNDERWORLD. It's for two groups; the simple reason being that the cast would have to have extraordinary breathing skills to execute the song otherwise. It's quite nice to have the two groups on opposite sides of the stage to give a stereo effect.


As Orpheus travels deeper and deeper into the Underworld, people start appearing, and he is greeted with PLUTO'S ANTHEM. This is very effective if it starts with a few people singing and builds up to many, all singing as loudly and in the most deadpan manner possible. At the end of all this someone should probably say, "Ladies and Gentlemen, King Pluto and Queen Persephone", and we hear PLUTO'S ENTRANCE. You could put a little routine to this with lots of bowing and curtseying and suchlike. Whether or not you have a bit of dialogue at this point is again up to you. You might like to have Orpheus explaining to the royal couple his problem and pleading for their compassion, and then they reply in a song. The song they sing is DISAPPEAR, in which Eurydice should somehow be brought on at the end and given back to Orpheus. On our recording it sounds like party time. Don't ask me why, I don't remember the performance being like that.

The next section is also open to interpretation and has been left blank musically. How do Orpheus and Eurydice get back to the Mortal World? What prompts Eurydice's swift departure back to the Underworld? Do they have an argument? What's the argument about? Does one of them have an accident, which results in their looking at one another?

How is all this expressed? With dialogue, in a poem, a song, a mime, etc.?Any solution is fine as long as poor old Eurydice gets shunted off back to the Underworld again, and Orpheus is left to return to the Mortal World alone.


All of this eventually leads to JOURNEY IN THE UNDERWORLD (REPRISE) telling us that since returning, Orpheus is definitely not in the mood to do much with himself, apart from mope around. He is not making anyone feel particularly happy, and lets us know it by singing ORPHEUS' LAMENT. This sounds good if the chorus parts are sung offstage by small groups.


As people get sick of his lamenting, the need to have a good time becomes greater, and so the people sing DEATH SALSA. It isn't really a salsa, it's more of a calypso actually, but if any teacher needs an excuse to raid the percussion box, this is it. The song employs 4 principal singers who sing the majority of the song, so they should have reasonably strong voices. The chorus, for no good reason other than my next door neighbour came from the Ivory Coast, is in Beté and he translated the following four very important questions for me;

  1. Why do I always buy shoes that are too small?
  2. Why do people open their mouths while you're asking them a question?
  3. Isn't it lucky that elephants don't fly?
  4. If everything was perfect, what could we complain about?

Any Beté speakers amongst you may feel suitably astonished.

During this number Orpheus arrives and receives a rather hostile reception. In the original story, the local Thracian women (who are furious that he's thinking of not marrying again) come armed with knives and tear Orpheus limb from limb, throwing the bits in the river. In our production he was merely beaten up and left for dead. This happens at the end, during the repeated section. Everyone then leaves the stage leaving Orpheus' body onstage. It's nice to have this under a single red spotlight if you can.


This will lead straight into OÙ EST ORPHÉE? This song is in French and lots of you will no doubt throw your hands in the air in absolute horror. I don't know why it's in French, but I do know that the inspiration for doing the piece came out of seeing Jean Cocteau's two superbly beautiful films 'Orphée' and 'Testament d'Orphée'. The music is very like that played on the horn of Africa (because I was running a project with lots of East African musicians at the time) and, as a consequence is probably very different from the rest of the songs. Saying all that, our children, after lots of listening and learning the words parrot fashion did manage to sing the song very well. It may that you do what we did and start with this song in order to have the maximum amount of time to work on it.

FINALE has roughly the same melody as HISTORY, apart from a different middle section, and the same possibilities for some added dramatic action if you wish to work something out. The ending, an imitation of the syncopation line in HISTORY, could provide a bit of comedy if said to the musicians or the audience. Regarding the ending, you may also want to tell your children the story of Œdipus. As soon as your audience starts clapping, the BOW MUSIC should begin and draw the show to a close.

I know that our children and their teachers had so much fun working on the production and I'm sure that you and yours will as well. As anyone putting on any kind of production knows, it takes lots of planning and preparation, but as we also know, it normally pays off at the end. Please feel free to contact me if you have problems on my email address. Good luck!

Marc Forde



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