Medea – Opera in three Acts to a libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann after Euripedes’s Medea and Pierre Corneille’s Médée [sung in Italian with Met Titles in English, German, and Spanish]
Medea – Sondra Radvanovsky
Glauce – Janai Brugger
Neris – Ekaterina Gubanova
Giasone – Matthew Polenzani
Creonte – Michele Pertusi
Handmaidens – Brittany Renee, Sarah Larsen
Leader of the King’s Guard – Christopher Job
Medea’s children – Axel Newville, Magnus Newville
The Metropolitan Opera Chorus
The Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera
David McVicar – Production & Set Designer
Doey Lüthi – Costume Designer
Paule Constable – Lighting Designer
Katy Tucker – Projection Designer
Jo Meredith – Movement Director
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 27 September, 2022
Venue: Metropolitan Opera House, Lincoln Center, New York City
The Met Opera’s 2022-23 season got off to a tempestuous start with a spectacular opening gala performance of the company’s first ever production of Cherubini’s terrifying masterpiece, Medea, a late eighteenth-century classical tragedy that looks forward into the romantic distance as it recounts the savagery of the sorceress Medea, who – after helping Giasone (Jason, leader of the Argonauts) to steal the Golden Fleece, and then being abandoned by him – poisons her rival Glauce and kills her own children to exact revenge on her unfaithful lover.
The opera, which premiered in a French version with spoken dialogue in 1797, was infrequently revived throughout the nineteenth-century. In 1909 Carlo Zangarini created an Italian translation for La Scala, replacing the spoken dialogue with recitatives, but after a brief run, that too remained largely unstaged until Maria Callas took on the title role in a 1953 revival in Florence, and the sung-through version became quickly established as Cherubini’s most famous composition. It is that variation which is on offer at the Met and to which Sondra Radvanovsky brings her enormous talents.
The title role is one of opera’s most daunting and, since Callas, has been incarnated by a select group of sopranos including Dame Gwyneth Jones, Leonie Rysanek, and Montserrat Caballé. In this premiere run, Radvanovsky makes it her own. Her entrance doesn’t come until forty minutes into the drama, but from then she’s never off. Every moment she is present, she dominates the scene with her riveting acting and ravishing voice, nearly eclipsing all the other characters. Dressed entirely in black, with vampire-like eyes ringed in black and wildly disheveled hair, she is a mysterious and pitiful presence as she begs Giasone to return to her in her opening aria, ‘Dei tuoi figli la madre’. Vocally superb throughout the first and second acts, she increases the emotional intensity and depth of characterization in the hypnotic finale when – all alone and wavering between her love for her sons and her desire to punish Giasone – she stalks, dances, even crawls around the stage in a ferocious half-hour monologue culminating in the murder of her children. This is far and away Radvanovsky’s most audacious and compelling interpretation in her two decades-plus history at the Met.
The cast surrounding Radvanovsky is uniformly solid. Matthew Polenzani, in superb vocal form, is a dashing and complex Giasone – tenderly expressing his feelings for Glauce in his Act One tenor romance, ‘Or che piu non vedro’, gentle in his early encounters with Medea, but agitated and violent in their later confrontations. As Neris, Medea’s confidante, mezzo Ekaterina Gubanova is a standout. Her mournful ‘Solo un pianto’, accompanied by a beguiling obbligato from Evan Epifanio’s bassoon, is the lyrical highpoint of the Second Act. Janai Brugger as Glauce is singularly impressive in the one soprano coloratura aria of the work, ‘O Amore, vieni a me’, with its graceful flute obbligato performed by Seth Morris. With his stentorian bass, Michele Pertusi as her father, Creonte, King of Corinth, is appropriately authoritative.
After a mostly stormy Overture, the Met Orchestra under Carlo Rizzi settles into a robust performance that highlights the psychologically charged score’s fluctuations between turbulent drama and aching lyricism. The superb Chorus, central to commenting on Medea’s state of mind, sings with great precision and clarity.
Sir David McVicar’s all-purpose set design, grimly lit by Paule Constable, is dominated by enormous, tarnished brass-colored doors, which slide open to reveal the playing space beyond. Overhanging the entire stage is a huge, angled mirror giving the audience a bird’s eye perspective of the action. When needed, S. Katy Tucker’s projections are efficient at conjuring up an incoming sea tide, blustery storm clouds, or a burning temple. Doey Lüthi’s elegant costumes suggest the Directoire style fashionable in France in the late-eighteenth-century when Médée, the original French-language version of Cherubini’s masterwork, premiered in Paris.
Further performances on October 1, 5, 8, 13, 18, 22 (matinee) and 28.