Cherubini’s Médée is a French opéra comique (i.e. with spoken dialogue) which premiered in March 1797. It’s based on Euripides by way of Corneille whose Médée of 1635 was written, as one might expect, in alexandrines. So its roots, and the work itself, are very much in the French classical tradition. The complication is that the work is much better known in its Italian version with sung recitatives (not authorised by Cherubini) and has developed as a “show off” vehicle for star sopranos; notably Maria Callas and, more recently, Sondra Radvanovsky. Along the way it’s lost a lot of its classicism and become almost verismo like. So I was intrigued to see how much Guillermo Silva-Marin, in presenting the work “in concert” at the St. Lawrence Centre, would try, and how much he would succeed, in reclaiming the Cherubini of a Paris tipping from revolution to Bonaparte.
In that respect it was a bit mixed. Corneille’s verse dialogue was replaced by a rather prosy, shortened English version. That’s understandable enough. It’s easier for the singers and the audience and it speeds things up but it does come at a price. The singing, while generally pretty good, was not especially Gallic with the notable exception of Natalya Gennadi in the title role who not only navigated this fiendish role but did so with some style. The part sits both low and high with some coloratura and is notoriously hard to sing. She did it very well and sounded quite French. She also sounded slightly exotic in the dialogue as befits the dangerous foreign sorceress who, like Gennadi, hails from the Black Sea.
There were some other good performances. Scott Rumble made a solidly dramatic Jason (rather oddly pronounced in the French manner in the English dialogue). He had the notes and quite a lot of power and acted well. The chemistry between him and Gennadi was pretty good especially considering limited prep time. Amy Moodie’s light, bright soprano was fine for Dircé and Danlie Rae Acebuque was workmanlike as Créon. There was a pleasant cameo from Julie Nesrallah as Néris and she acted well. The chorus was fine and Narmina Afandiyeva was indefatigable at the piano.
Now with Opera in Concert one is never sure how staged, or not, a piece is going to be. This was towards the concert end of “semi-staged”. There were no music stands but it was in concert dress with no scenery and basic blocking. Effective enough though.
Bottom line, this was a pretty fine achievement. It’s a bold choice of work because of the demands on the leading lady who here was excellent and well backed up by her Jason. I like that OiC chooses slightly offbeat rep. I’m not really sure I see the point of doing yet another Don Giovanni or Tosca in piano score with limited resources though we get plenty of of it! All in all, a good way to spend a Sunday afternoon.