Monday, April 22

The Met Live in HD: Medea – The Metropolitan Opera

Originally written in French in 1797, The Met premiere the later Italian version of Cherubini’s rarely performed masterpiece, based on Euripides’ and Corneille’s tragedies, to open their new season in a co-production with the Greek National Opera, Canadian Opera Company, and Lyric Opera of Chicago.

Spurning antiquity, director David McVicar sets the piece somewhere around the time of its original writing with a distinctly Gallic nod towards the French Revolution that would follow, and the straightforward simplicity of the set, which he also designed, is sympathetic to an audience mostly unfamiliar with the work.

The breathless overture recedes to introduce Glauce (Janai Brugger), daughter of Creonte (Michele Pertusi), King of Corinth, and her impending marriage to Giasone (Matthew Polenzani). Yet the talk of the town is less on this occasion and more of concern in relation to Giasone’s ex-wife, Medea (Sondra Radvanovsky), who duly appears with her confidante, Neris (Ekaterina Gubanova). If there’s anything worse than a spurned partner then it’s one who’s renowned for supernatural sorcery and dismembering her own brother to help her then suitor and subsequent husband steal the infamous golden fleece, which itself forms a backdrop along with the Argonauts (looking more pirates of the Caribbean it has to be said). The question is whether Creonte’s unusually heartfelt moral decision to allow her one final day to spend with her children will prove to be to everyone’s detriment…

Medea is one of operas most daunting roles and its infrequent performance is due to its success, or failure, coming down to the strength of its prima donna. The tour-de-force role was made famous by opera’s ultimate diva, Maria Callas, who revived the role to great success in the 1950s, leaving numerous recordings as testimony, and laying down the gauntlet of an extended vocal range that most sopranos cannot match.

As such, Radvanovsky deserves credit for just turning up; better than that, she excels herself with her high note take as well as for her pacing which allows her to come through in one piece in a role that could literally drive you mad. Jo Meredith’s choreographed writhing sequence presented a woman at the end of her tether and hence at her most dangerous, as she managed to beguile the men as a prelude to her one final act of vengeance.

There was an excellent cast in support with Polenzani capturing the brash arrogance of Giasone perfectly whilst Brugger reflected the tender innocence and charm of his young bride. Pertusi was an authoritative father and leader who ultimately makes the wrong decision; Gubanova, offering perhaps the only voice of reason, sang her big aria beautifully.

The orchestra, conducted by Carlo Rizzi, echoed the mood of the piece throughout as it hurtled from the soft sentiment of its opening to the brutal savagery at its finale, with matching vocal from a composed chorus, all suitably costumed by Doey Lüthi.

I liked McVicar’s use of a huge mirror looming at an angle over the playing space to provide a vivid and disorientating birds-eye view of proceedings, although the constraints of sightlines means not everyone will get to enjoy it. Equally looming were the golden gates to the city that were transformed into darkness and decay through Paulo Constable’s subtle lighting changes, which also supported S. Katy Tucker’s sophisticated projections.

The Met’s 2022-2023 season will feature six more new productions, including the world premiere of Kevin Puts’ The Hours, Giordano’s Fedora, Wagner’s Lohengrin, the Met premiere of Terence Blanchard’s Champion, and Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Die Zauberflöte, all of which will be available as Live in HD transmissions worldwide.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 22nd October 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★