Chelsea Opera Group – Médée

Médée – Opera in three acts to a libretto by François-Benoit Hoffmann [sung in French]

Médée – Yvonne Howard
Jason – Michael Bracegirdle
Dircé – Victoria Joyce
Néris – Liora Grodnikaite
Créon – Darren Jeffery
Dircé’s confidantes – Chloë Morgan & Caitlin Downie

Chelsea Opera Group Chorus & Orchestra
Andrew Greenwood

Sally Burgess (narrator)

Reviewed by: John T. Hughes

Reviewed: 20 November, 2010
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London

Chelsea Opera Group’s performance of Luigi Cherubini’s lyric-tragedy of 1797 was sung in the original French, but dialogue was replaced by a narration in English, spoken by Sally Burgess.

The drama of “Médée” builds to the horrors of Act Three, the music becoming less lyrical as the action progresses to the sorceress’s murder of her two children, whose father is Jason. He has pushed Médée aside and plans to marry Dircé, daughter of King Créon. Médée sends Dircé poisoned wedding gifts before killing the children and descending into Hades with the Furies.

It was all well paced by Andrew Greenwood and his COG forces. He and they steadily revealed the envy, anger and tension, whipping up a storm in Act Three to augment Médée’s unbridled hostility and hatred. The chorus was especially full-toned as the Furies but were at a high level all through the performance.

Yvonne Howard was Médée. She is a mezzo with a good range and brought out the venom in the character, blazing forth on high and bringing strength to lower passages as she railed against Jason. She painted the picture of the vengeful woman without exaggerating. I can imagine that Howard enjoyed this role, just as her singing of it was appreciated by the audience.

As Dircé, Victoria Joyce brought her high-lying soprano to the coloratura of her Act One aria, which she delivered with vocal certainty. After that opening scene, Dircé has little to do, so it was well that Joyce made her mark in her aria. If Dircé’s main contribution is at the beginning of the opera, Néris, Médée’s handmaiden, enters in Act Two. She is involved mainly in a trio and the slow aria ‘Ah! nos peines seront communes’, which was sung by Liora Grodnikaite, as usual without the score in front of her. She sang it with a softness of tone as Néris expresses her loyalty to Médée by vowing to stay with her unto death. Sung with gentle sadness and a smooth line by the Lithuanian mezzo it was a calm episode among less savoury scenes.

Darren Jeffrey’s rounded tones made a firm figure of Créon, the sound rolling easily. That, unfortunately, was not the case with Michael Bracegirdle as Jason. We were told that he had a throat ailment. The result was a squeezing of the tone and a lack of juice in the voice, but full marks to him for professionalism.

This was yet another enjoyable evening from COG. On 13 February 2011, at Queen Elizabeth Hall, the opera will be Donizetti’s “Belisario”, with Nelly Miricioiu, conducted by Richard Bonynge.

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