This evening the Met opened its 2022-23 season with its first ever presentation of Luigi Cherubini’s opera Medea. Well, it’s mostly by Cherubini. He wrote Médée an opéra comique for the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris. After its premiere in 1797, it was largely neglected. It was subsequently translated into German and the dialogue replaced with recitatives by Franz Lachner. The German libretto was then translated into Italian using Lachner’s recitatives. This is the version used by the Met.
The opera’s survival is mainly due to Maria Callas. She performed Cherubini/Lachner’s filicidal sorceress with great frequency during the 50s and early 60s. There are six recordings available taken in performance with her in the title role. The opera endures almost entirely as a vehicle for a star soprano. The diva responsible for the Met’s staging of the opera is Sondra Radvanovsky.
SInce I listened to a broadcast of the performance, I cannot comment on David McVicars’ new production. The opera will start the Met’s HD series near the end of next month. I’ll discuss it in greater detail after seeing it. Just a few thoughts about the work and the singing. Radvanovsky clearly was the dominant performer as she should have been in a work set in Divadom. Her voice sounded ample and conveyed the intense emotion that the text demands. Given that the opera is not one of the genre’s masterpieces, the full impact of a great performer is needed for it to be successful. As a purely aural experience the performance was interesting, but lacked the intensity that the live audience seemed to experience. Cherubini’s music is at its best when dramatic intensity is required. Melodic fecundity is not on his palette. It’s this kind of composing which animates the opera’s overture and Cherubini’s chamber music which is very good. A fair judgement of the opera and its performance needs delay until it is seen as well as heard.
Soprano Janai Brugger showed a pleasant lyric soprano as the unfortunate Princess Glauce. Ekaterina Gubanova was Neris, Medea’s slave/attendant. She has a very impressive mezzo. She’ll be heard later in the season as Adalgisa in Norma. Bellini’s opera has a similar story, only the discarded mother spares her children after thinking about killing them. Adalgisa is a also a bigger role than Neris and will give Gubanova a greater opportunity to display her talent.
Thing were not quite as good on the male side of the cast. Tenor Matthew Polenzani has been around for a long time. He had all the notes required for Giasone (Jason of the golden fleece fame), but his voice was very dry. Michele Pertusi has also been at the Met for a while. He made his debut with the company 25 years ago. He was fine as King Creonte, but his voce is getting a bit wooly.
Conductor Carlo Rizzi led a spirited rendition of Cherubini’s score, one still in the tradition of the 18th century even if it was just about to end when he penned the work. Both orchestra and chorus were up to the Met’s usual high standard. It’s definitely worth a trip to the theater in your locale that will present the opera in HD on October 22.
The program for this performance is below.