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HomeOperaHow do you resolve an issue like ‘Medea’? « parterre field

How do you resolve an issue like ‘Medea’? « parterre field


How do you maintain a moonbeam in your hand?  Or, extra to the purpose, how do you exorcize the legend of Callas?

Nicely, the Metropolitan Opera did a reasonably good job of it on September 27 as they opened their 2022-2023 season with their first manufacturing ever of Luigi Cherubini’s seminal opera Medea (or Médée because it was titled in 1797 on the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris).

On the remaining bows of the manufacturing premiere final evening, Sondra Radvanovsky because the titular sorceress and deserted spouse acquired a real (not rote) standing ovation with confetti showers pouring down from the Household Circle bins (either side).

No boos had been heard for the manufacturing crew.  Although some pleasure was lacking from the conducting and course (which had been extremely competent with out being really impressed), the entire manufacturing got here collectively powerfully through the titular protagonist.

Cherubini’s opera (initially an opéra-comique) is a transitional, usually revolutionary music drama which has come right down to us in numerous kinds.  The French authentic model had musical set items interspersed with spoken dialogue en français.  This has been problematic as spoken dialogue doesn’t undertaking properly in large theaters (just like the Met) and opera singers don’t like alternating between their operatic singing and talking voices (many don’t speak in any respect backstage throughout performances).

Non-francophone singers aren’t more likely to undertaking the dialogue convincingly as it isn’t one thing they’re educated to do.  The spoken verses by authentic librettist François-Benoît Hoffman have been criticized as poor although generally his libretto (primarily based on Euripides’ and Corneille’s tragedies) has been praised.

The Met selected an Italian model of Cherubini’s masterwork that premiered at La Scala in 1909 starring verismo tragedienne Ester Mazzoleni because the titular antiheroine.  That manufacturing used a revised model of the opera with orchestrally accompanied recitatives composed by Franz Lachner in 1855 for a German-language staging in Frankfurt translated into Italian by Carlo Zangarini.

When this “Medea” hybrid model was revived for Maria Callas on the 1953 Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and in subsequent productions all around the world, it put the opera again on the map but in addition inextricably related the function of Medea and the opera itself with the Greek-American soprano, making it tough for successors to place their very own private stamp on it.

I’ll say that I feel that Lachner’s recitatives are musically good – his model emulates Beethoven who admired and was influenced by Cherubini.  Cherubini’s 1800 opéra-comique Les deux journées, ou Le porteur d’eau was utilized by Beethoven as a mannequin for his Leonore and Fidelio right down to the spoken dialogues

The libretto for Fidelio is customized from Jean-Nicolas Bouilly’s libretto for Pierre Gaveaux’s Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal which premièred on the Théâtre Feydeau in 1798, with tenor-composer Gaveaux himself within the function of Florestan and soprano Julie-Angélique Scio as Léonore.  Scio and Gaveaux had been the unique Médée and Jason in Cherubini’s opera they usually additionally created lead roles in Les deux journées.

Cherubini’s rating, like Beethoven’s music, is predicated firmly in 18th century classicism however in its scope and depth prefigures the heightened emotion and drama of nineteenth century Romanticism.  Tenor Matthew Polenzani, the Giasone of this manufacturing, has described Medea as a mixture of Mozart and Verdi – and there’s reality in that description.

Nonetheless, Lachner’s recitatives add size and weight to Cherubini’s tight authentic rating altering its musical dimensions.  The naturalistic declamatory model of the vocal writing (significantly for Médée/Medea herself) and the Italian-language translation usually push the opera into proto-verismo (that is evident in Callas’ performances and different Italian-language performances from the late twentieth century).

Given the truth that Sondra Radvanovsky’s repertory makes a speciality of Verdi, verismo and Italian opera and that almost all New York audiences are solely aware of Cherubini’s opera via Maria Callas’ recordings of this model, the selection of the Cherubini/Lachner conflation in Italian makes sensible sense even when it lacks musicological propriety.

Sufficient background, how was the present?

David McVicar, who designed the set for this manufacturing in addition to offering the stage course, is presently the Met’s director of alternative – this Medea is his twelfth new manufacturing for the corporate.

He’s additionally typically reviled by members of this board for his comparatively unambitious, uncontroversial lifelike and representational manufacturing model which is usually non-interventionist and traditional (although not missing in psychological element and appearing course).

Given that almost all Met viewers members are unfamiliar with this opera and that it’s a Met premiere (the opera was staged regionally by the previous New York Metropolis Opera with Marisa Galvany and Grace Bumbry in 1974 and 1982), an easy interpretation of the opera is a smart alternative even when some theatrical pleasure is misplaced.  I have to observe once more there have been no boos for the manufacturing crew on the remaining curtain name.

The present curtain depicts the contorted face of a girl (presumably Medea herself) like a Greek masks of tragedy.  One eye glares with hatred whereas the opposite sheds bitter tears.  The mouth is contorted right into a gaping frown of both rage or despair – or each.

McVicar’s unit set represents what appears to be the distressed portico of a Corinthian stone palace with columns and sliding panels which open revealing a rear house with a raked upstage mirror that displays the motion under giving a double imaginative and prescient impact.

The versatile set can present both an intimate downstage non-public house for the extraordinary interactions of Medea and the opposite characters or a bigger public house incorporating the offstage exterior world of Giasone, Creonte and Glauce and the refrain.  On this rear house we see a marriage banquet, the Golden Fleece that introduced Medea and Jason collectively and the wedding ceremony of Giasone and Glauce.

In the course of the Act III prelude, we additionally see Medea seemingly floating in house mirrored within the rear mirror mendacity in the course of the ground considering homicide and revenge.  The upstage house is also used for the Act III temple the place Medea murders her youngsters and is consumed embracing their useless our bodies within the burning temple by flames created by projections in a memorable remaining self-immolation.

On condition that Medea tells Giasone of their remaining confrontation that her specter will meet him on the stygian shores of the river Acheron, murder-suicide is a convincing alternative although the unique Médée famously fled through a dragon-led chariot within the remaining tableau.

There may be a lot offstage motion which is narrated by the refrain and Jason from the wings.  McVicar opens the rear stage space to depict these (usually grisly) tableaux together with the dying Glauce and Medea’s murdered youngsters within the temple with Medea (and the viewers) as witness.  This provides visible and dramatic selection to the principally static dramaturgy.

If the set seems historic, the costumes by debutante costume designer Doey Lüthi replace the motion to the Napoleonic period of the opera’s composition.  This has been achieved earlier than, notably in a 1989 Covent Backyard manufacturing of Médée starring Rosalind Plowright directed by Mike Ashman.

The costumes for Jason’s Argonauts resemble the pirates of the Caribbean however the Empire waist costumes for the Glauce and the women and the army uniforms for the lads are good-lookingMedea sports activities one black ball robe with distressed lace and naked shoulders enhanced by leather-based wristbands and beaded necklaces.   

Paule Constable’s vivid lighting makes use of chiaroscuro results to reinforce the drama.  Jo Meredith, a debutante, is credited as motion director eliciting visually arresting bodily performances from the leads significantly from the diva.

McVicar handles the refrain and staging of the upstage tableaux with knowledgeable aptitude.  The few novel directorial interventions are supported by the textual content and add theatrical curiosity.  There may be little in deep psychological interpretation although Medea is conceived as a girl extra sinned towards than sinning, as a lot sufferer as victimizer.

This interpretation of the character, I’m afraid, isn’t supported by the story regardless of present feminist ideology and politically right attitudes.  Medea’s a number of murders (which start with the homicide and dismemberment of her personal brother in Colchos) nonetheless horrify the viewer of their savagery establishing her as a narcissistic sociopath.  Her remaining suicide on this manufacturing additionally helps the sufferer/victimizer idea.

Maestro Carlo Rizzi and the Metropolitan Orchestra and Refrain acquitted themselves with a excessive degree of professionalism and musicianship.  Nonetheless, I’ve all the time discovered Rizzi a really competent and versatile conductor however not an fascinating one.  A high-level routinier who is sweet to have round however isn’t going to generate pleasure or present perception.

The orchestral conducting and enjoying had been huge home 18th century classicism seen via a Romantic nineteenth century lens with an enormous fashionable instrument twenty first century orchestra.  Cherubini’s rating has blazing and musically revolutionary passages (principally for the antiheroine) but in addition moderately typical classical items (principally for the opposite characters and refrain) with slow-moving dramatic momentum which wants enlivening power from the pit to maintain the performers and viewers engaged.  What we heard was musically legitimate however not thrilling sufficient needing extra musical assault and dramatic distinction.

The supporting solid had been all in good voice and appropriate to their roles.  The night begins with the unhappy forebodings of bride-to-be Glauce right here sung by Janai Brugger as she is fitted for her wedding ceremony robe.  Brugger’s tone has a lush bloom however I felt the upper and extra florid passages in her opening aria revealed some thinning and fluttery tone.  She ought to calm down and get extra assured because the run progresses.

Veteran bass Michele Pertusi as Creonte confirmed some dryness of tone across the edges (principally decrease register) however in the home his tone had presence with vivid Italian phrase pointing.  Mezzo-soprano Ekaterina Gubanova as Neris unfurled a vibrant tone with lush legato phrasing in her long-lined aria “Solo un pianto”.  Gubanova additionally sounded brilliant and gleaming in Neris’ extra extroverted moments.

Matthew Polenzani was extra lyrical than heroic as Giasone and (as in final season’s Don Carlos) was feared to be too light-weight for the function which has been usually sung by spinto and dramatic tenors just like the late Jon Vickers.  Maybe Polenzani along with his pretty French diction and elegance can be higher suited to the French model in a extra historic interval follow version?

Nonetheless, celebrating his twenty fifth season with the corporate, Polenzani’s brilliant lyric tenor simply crammed out the music balancing Mozartian class with incisive Verdian phrasing offering sufficient tonal thrust to carry his personal with Sondra Radvanovsky.  His appearing was extra Pinkerton than Jason total however he had sympathetic presence and good rapport along with his diva.

And the diva herself??

The opera itself ambles alongside unmemorably solely coming to vivid life when Medea exhibits up in Act I to throw a wrench into the proceedings.  Medea drives the motion, virtually all the time onstage thereafter.  The music turns into extra angular, harmonically daring and unconventional when she is onstage.

The opera builds in depth and curiosity as she takes over the drama – Act III is sort of a monodrama and is musically and dramatically novel and thrilling.  The opposite characters fade into the background musically and dramatically besides throughout Medea’s confrontations along with her untrue husband.

Sondra Radvanovsky has all the time had a controversial voice which is transferring and thrilling to some listeners and ugly and grating to others.  She is blessed with blazing excessive notes but in addition has a bottled center and decrease register with a timbre that’s hooded and typically opaque within the center.

The tone leans towards the metallic and dramatic moderately than lush magnificence.  Her vibrato isn’t all the time even or managed – it might probably oscillate quick and sharp or sluggish and flat.  Final evening, the vibrato was even and never distinguished. The bizarre, distinctive and typically alienating qualities within the voice suited the character and vocal writing brilliantly.

Radvanovsky has an unconventional voice that’s suited to unconventional characters and is greatest utilized in rangy, tough music.  The dearth of lush magnificence was no deficit in depicting Medea’s jealousy and vengeful rage depicted by Cherubini in angular, declamatory vocal writing which Radvanovsky carried out fantastically with abandon.

Nonetheless, within the Act I duet “Dei tuoi figli la madre”, Radvanovsky floated haunting pianissimos as Medea makes an attempt to melt Giasone’s enmity and acquire his sympathy.  Then Radvanovsky tore savagely into “Nemici senza cor” stabbing at her enemies hurling steely excessive notes like knives.

Relative weak spot within the decrease register was the one actual vocal deficit – a couple of times she would dip cautiously into chest tone nevertheless it was not sufficient.  Radvanovsky additionally may be responsible of strange closed Italian vowels and veiled diction – neither was evident on opening evening although her phrase pointing may use extra selection.

Radvanovsky has additionally been praised for her appearing which I’ve principally discovered studious however not instinctive or visceral in impression. Whereas Sondra’s voice is bigger than life, her stage presence isn’t. Many of the drama in Radvanovsky’s performing comes from her distinctive and impactful vocalism which makes use of up most of her performing power preserving an enormous and infrequently wild voice below management.  As Medea, she balances the singing and the appearing depth extra evenly with a hanging plastique developed in collaboration with motion director Jo Meredith.

Radvanovsky by no means lets the viewers lose sight that Medea is as a lot wounded and struggling as revengeful and rage crammed.  Additionally, Radvanovsky’s Medea all the time appeared sane and managed with out the insanity and mania of different performances of the play and the opera.  The formality of the music doesn’t assist such a characterization.

There’s a demonic factor within the character which is shortchanged thereby however the humanity of the character is enhanced which I feel is the intention.  Once more, given the blood spilled on the stage, it’s arduous to really feel a lot compassion for Medea as in her view she finally ends up the “winner” in depriving Jason of all the pieces together with his youngsters. However on the similar time she too loses all the pieces, together with part of her humanity.

Medea could or will not be a winner on the finish however Radvanovsky, her colleagues, the Metropolitan Opera and Cherubini’s opera itself emerged as winners on opening evening.  I counsel you to get these tickets (there are nonetheless many obtainable) and see this present dwell.  The HD transmission at your native movie show is on October 22.

Photographs: Marty Sohl / Met Opera




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