It’s no wonder that the disappointed and hurt spouses both seek their happiness unapologetically in extramarital adventures: Orpheus finds the admiration he craves in one of his pupils – he has taken a shine to the nymph Maquilla. Eurydice meanwhile is attracted to the new neighbour, the honey merchant Aristeus, unaware that he is in fact the god Pluto, who means to carry the pretty earth-dweller off to his realm in the Underworld. His plan succeeds, and Eurydice yields to her fate not unwillingly. There’s just time for a hasty goodbye note. Orpheus is looking forward to his life as a widower enormously, when Public Opinion steps in. She demands that Orpheus reclaim Eurydice – by
petitioning Jupiter, the ultimate authority – unless he wants to lose his job at the municipal conservatory and see his reputation as an artist ruined. Public Opinion assures him of her support, and will accompany him to Olympus.
Ennui prevails on Olympus, too. The absolutist regime of Jupiter, father of the gods, offers barely any variety; even heavenly pleasures like nectar and ambrosia become bland and insipid in the long run. The gods and goddesses therefore try some insurrection. But then the rumour spreads that a beautiful woman, Eurydice, has been abducted by a god. Juno suspects her husband Jupiter is behind it, after all she has suffered because of his notorious infidelity. Outraged by the insinuation, Jupiter summons Pluto, who is supposed to be the culprit. Pluto flatly denies it and doesn’t even appear to be fazed when Orpheus arrives accompanied by Public Opinion. Jupiter, tantalized by curiosity about Eurydice, decides to go and see for himself and descend to the Underworld. He agrees to take his whole family with him – a concession to the fractious Olympians, who put off their revolt.
Act two – Scene 3
Meanwhile, Eurydice is bored in Pluto’s boudoir. Where is the passion she hoped for from her abductor? Instead she is closely supervised and kept out of sight by John Styx, an oddball who claims to have known better times as a prince before entering menial service as Pluto’s valet. Eurydice is not impressed by his royal back-story, and rejects his advances as grotesque harassment. The eager delegation from Olympus arrives. In a farcical squabble between Jupiter and Pluto, the latter continues to deny he did the abducting; and there’s still no trace of Eurydice. In the monotony of her confinement she notices a fly that has buzzed in through the keyhole – a fly with golden wings that gladly lets itself be caught by Eurydice. It turns out to be Jupiter, who has once again taken on the shape of an animal to get up close and personal with a particular woman he desires. He promises to release Eurydice from the tedium of her captivity without anyone noticing.
Pluto throws a lavish party for his guests from Olympus. Jupiter is in high spirits and feels like dancing because of his promising erotic encounter with Eurydice when disguised as a fly; he has also gone one up on his rival Pluto. The deities are having a wild time, when once again Public Opinion bursts in, leading the supposed injured party. Orpheus has no option but to ask Jupiter to restore Eurydice to him. Under pressure from the assembled deities, Jupiter consents, but he sets one condition: when leaving the Underworld, Orpheus may not look back at his spouse – if he does he will lose her forever. Orpheus and Eurydice set off on their way. Before they reach the frontier river Styx – with Jupiter about to hurl a thunderbolt in order to stop them – Eurydice takes control of her own destiny, and snatches the violin from her husband’s hands. Orpheus looks round in alarm. Eurydice has the last word and snubs them all: she declares she will devote herself to Bacchus, and throws herself with great élan into the freedom of her new life as a Bacchante.