Médée, Opéra-comique de trois actes de Luigi Cherubini, 1797 (2011)

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Médée, Opéra-comique de trois actes de Luigi Cherubini, 1797 Movie Reviews

Sheer musical beauty but a visual nightmare

Cherubini’s ‘Medea’ (or ‘Medee’ in its French version, like it is here) is not a personal favourite, but it has such an intense and dramatically compelling story, the titular character is interesting and Cherubini’s music is wonderful, Beethoven admired him and it’s not hard to see why.

Despite being incredibly musically, this is the weakest production of the opera on DVD for me, with Anna Caterina Antonacci’s production being the best and Théâtre Impérial De Compiegne (despite a poorly produced DVD) not being far behind. Again it is not the musical values that are the problem, in fact they are the reason the production isn’t rated lower, but more the ugly visuals and distracting and sometimes distasteful staging.

Les Talens Lyriques’ orchestral playing is just exemplary, making Cherubini’s music both authentic and current. The woodwind playing is especially impressive, while the many dynamic and rhythmic contrasts are performed to their full impact, often explosive, and of individual moments the prelude to Act 3 is particularly stunning. Christophe Rousset’s conducting is tightly paced, alert yet sympathetic, letting the music breathe while giving life to the drama.

Nadja Michael is extraordinary in the title role, attacking this tigress of a role with fearless abandon. The vocal challenges of Medea are immense, but Michael makes it sound easy, while dramatically she is quite the tigress acting with fearless passion and fierce intensity without making it too one-dimensional. Vincent Le Texier is also superb as Creon, with a rich voice and commanding, dignified stage presence.

Hendrickje Van Kerckhove is a fetching and moving Dirce and Kurt Streit is an emotive Jason and doesn’t sound at all taxed, nothing too lyrical or too lightweight about his voice at all. The production’s DVD has very good technical values, with expansive but unobtrusive video directing, clear and focused picture quality and suitably booming sound that allows one to enjoy the full impact of the music.

It is a shame that it is a visual nightmare, with the sets looking garish and sparse with no sense of time or place, cheap costumes (wasn’t sure why Medea looked like an Amy Winehouse look-alike), one-dimensional lighting and lots of unexplained and foolish nonsense with the wigs.

Dramatically, this reviewer couldn’t get into it, the intensity and passion of the story is almost completely lost and only obvious in the musical values and performances. Instead it is replaced with everything this reviewer hates about concept productions when done wrong, the action is often silly, distracting and irrelevant (sometimes bordering on distasteful), especially the incoherent staging of the overture and the farcical ending, there is little atmosphere in the story and the storytelling is not clear or engaging.

All in all, sheer musical beauty but a visual nightmare and a dramatic disaster. 5/10 Bethany Cox