Opéra comique in three acts acts by Luigi Cherubini (1760–1842)
Liberto by Francois Benoit Hoffman (Italian version by Carlo Zangarini) based on Euripides' tragedy of Medea and Pierre Corneille's play Médée, sung in Italian with English Surtitles
First performed at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris, 13 March 1797
It was not only Beethoven who regarded Cherubini as the greatest of his peers. Many of the foremost 19th-century composers from the Austro-German tradition admired Cherubini – an Italian who spent most of his career in France – and his most famous opera in particular. Medea was Schubert’s favourite work for the lyric stage, and for all his seemingly unoperatic temperament Brahms was moved to call it the work ‘which we musicians regard as the summit of dramatic music’. Yet despite all this, and the part that Maria Callas played in reviving its fortunes (beginning with her performance at the Maggio Musicale in Florence in 1952) after it disappeared from sight in the early 20th century, despite even more recent revivals in its original French form as Médée, Cherubini’s masterpiece remains a work of which everyone has heard, but relatively few opera lovers have actually experienced in the theatre.
Medea is a fierce work, and not simply because of its subject matter; plenty of uncompromising plots have been watered down before reaching the operatic stage. As the New Grove Dictionary of Opera explains, ‘In its unmitigated horror, this opera has few equals. Its savage fury ties it closely to its Greek ancestry.’ It is all the more astonishing, then, to remember that it was written a mere six years after Die Zauberflöte. If its premiere, at the Théâtre Faydeau in Paris in 1797, was little more than a succès d’estime, it went on to inspire more enthusiasm in the German-speaking world. Cherubini, who composed over 30 operas as well as large quantities of church and chamber music, was himself fully cosmopolitan and stands apart from other Italian composers of his day. Having moved to Paris early on in his career and enjoyed aristocratic patronage, he had some trouble adapting to post-Revolution conditions, though not enough to stop him being appointed Napoleon’s director of music in Vienna in 1805–6. Dying in old age in Paris in 1842, he was buried at the Père Lachaise Cemetery, in a plot near to where Chopin would join him seven years later.
Years ago, Medea killed her brother to help Jason steal the Golden Fleece. Jason promised he would never leave her.
Glauce’s friends reassure her about the forthcoming wedding. Glauce knows all about Medea, and she’s afraid of her. She prays to the gods to bless her union with Jason.
When Jason arrives in Corinth, Creon promises to protect both Jason and his children. Jason then presents Glauce with the Golden Fleece. That reminder of his past upsets her, and Jason comforts Glauce in a tender duet. It doesn’t help, and Glauce’s fears seem justified when Medea herself appears and denounces the pending marriage.
Creon promptly banishes Medea from the city, but she is allowed one chance to speak with Jason. He’s moved when Medea reminds him that she’s the mother of his children. But Jason is still determined to marry Glauce, and Medea vows that he’ll regret his decision.
Medea is furious with Jason, who has refused to let her see their children. Her confidante Neris tells Medea that she should also beware of Creon, who wants her out of Corinth immediately.
Instead of leaving, Medea decides to confront Creon. She begs him for a little more time before she goes, so she can say goodbye to her children. Reluctantly, Creon agrees.
Neris sings a moving aria about her mistress’s sad predicament, while Medea considers the situation. She knows that Jason has great affection for their sons and decides that his love for the children might be the key to getting back at him.
As the wedding festivities begin, Jason and Glauce go into the temple to pray, and Medea prays to the god of marriage to help her.
Medea decides to send Glauce some wedding presents: a diadem and veil which have been poisoned. Neris takes the children into the palace to present Medea’s gifts to Glauce. Medea is left alone, and as she sings, we learn that she has another plan of vengeance against Jason. She intends to murder their children.
Neris reappears, leading the children out of the palace for their last visit with Medea. She tells Medea that Glauce has accepted the gifts – the plan has worked. Medea can barely look at the two boys, and lets Neris know that her revenge against Jason is not complete. Neris begs her not to harm the children, and Medea seems to relent.
A commotion is heard from inside the palace. Glauce is dead, her flesh melted by the poisoned diadem and veil. Jason emerges from the palace gates, grief-stricken, along with an angry crowd intent on seizing Medea. Jason searches for the children, but Medea has taken them.
As the crowd gathers and Jason prays for the safety of his sons, Medea appears. Desperately, Jason asks, ’where are my children?’ Medea replies, ’They were your children.’ She has killed the boys.
A co-production with Opera Omaha
28 October performance generously supported by TERRY AND MARJORIE NEILL
Act 1 – 54 mins
Interval 30 mins
Act 2 – 45 mins
Act 3 - 37 mins (82 mins)
Previously at WFO: Conductor (Koanga, 2015).
Previous Engagements: Conductor (Leonore, Beethoven, Buxton Festival), Conductor (La Fanciulla del West, Puccini, Grange Park Opera), Conductor (La Cenerentola, Rossini, Stuttgart Opera).
Forthcoming Engagements: Conductor (Die Walküre, Richard Wagner, Grange Park Opera), Conductor (Macbeth, Verdi, Buxton Festival), Conductor (Owen Wingrave, Benjamin Britten, Irish Youth Opera).
Previous Engagements: Director (The Marriage of Figaro, Mozart, English National Opera), Director (The Rape of Lucretia, Benjamin Britten, Glyndebourne Festival Opera), Director (Elegy for Young Lovers, Werner Henze, English National Opera).
Forthcoming Engagements: Director (L’Enfance du Christ, Hector Berlioz, Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester Berlin), Narrator (Orlando, Olga Neuwirth, Wiener Staatsoper).
Set and Costume Designer
Previous Engagements: Designer (L’heure espagnole/Gianni Schicchi, Ravel/Pucchini, Opéra national de Lorraine), Designer (Salome/L’Elisir d’amore/Turn of the Screw, Richard Strauss/Gaetano Donizetti/Benjamin Britten, Northern Ireland Opera), Designer (The Triumph of Time and Truth/The Triumph of Beauty and Deceit, Georg Friedrich Handel/Gerald Barry, Handel Festival Karlsruhe).
Previous Engagements: Director (Mad King Suibhne, Noah Mosley, Bury Court Opera; Dido & Belinda, Purcell/Geyer, Helios Collective/King’s College London; King Roger, Szymanowski, Random Acts).
Forthcoming Engagements: Director (L’Occasione fa il Ladro, Rossini, Raucous Rossini; Il Letto, Puccini/Hogg, Buxton International Festival/Copenhagen Opera Festival; Operatic Mass Actions, Various, AUT, Aarhus Denmark).
Previously at WFO: Lighting Designer (Silent Night, Don Bucefalo, Salomé, 2014).
Previous Engagements: Lighting Designer (4.48 Psychosis, Philip Venables, Royal Opera House – Lyric Hammersmith; Don Giovanni, Mozart, Northern Ireland Opera); L’Heure Espagnole/Gianni Schicci, Ravel/Puccini, Boston Lyric Opera).
Previous Engagements: Choreographer (Rystet Speil – Broken Mirror, Royal Danish Ballet; Jeux, New York City Ballet), Movement Director (Eugene Onegin, Tchaikovsky, The Metropolitan Opera, New York).
Forthcoming Engagements: Movement Director (Desire Under the Elms, Eugene O'Neill, Sheffield Crucible Theatre).
Previous Engagements: Ariadne (Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss, Glyndebourne Festival Opera), Soloist (Rosenblatt Recital with James Baillieu), Isabella (Das Liebesverbot, Wagner, Teatro Colon).
Forthcoming Engagements: Ariadne (Ariadne auf Naxos, Strauss, Wiener Staatsoper), Soloist (Wesendonck Lieder, Wagner, Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra), Soloist (Four Last Songs, Strauss, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra).
Previous Engagements: Sophie (Werther, Massenet, Teatro Comunale di Bologna), Albina (La Donna del lago, Rossini, Rossini Opera Festival), Soprano (El sombrero de tres picos, de Falla, Staatskapelle Berlin).
Forthcoming Engagements: Lucia (Lucia di Lammermoor, Teatro Comunale di Bologna), Madama Cortese (Il Viaggio a Reims, Rossini, Gran Teatre del Liceu).
Previous Engagements: Dorabella (Così fan tutte, Mozart, Teatro Carlo Felice, Genoa), Arturo (Rosmonda d’Inghilterra, Donizetti, Teatro Donizetti, Bergamo), Rosina (Il Barbiere di Siviglia, Rossini, Teatro Comunale di Bologna).
Forthcoming Engagements: Carlotta (Torvaldo e Dorliska, Rossini, Rossini Opera Festival, Pesaro), Soloist (Mass, Schubert, Teatro Regio, Torino), Soloist (Gala Rossini, Rossini, Teatro Principal de Mahon, Menorca).
Previous Engagements: Alfredo (La Traviata, Verdi, Royal Opera House, Covent Garden), Otello (Otello, Verdi, Teatro San Carlo Napoli), Edgardo (Lucia di Lammermoor, Donizetti, Théâtre du Capitole, Toulouse).
Forthcoming Engagements: Rodolfo (La Bohème, Puccini, Dutch National Opera).
Bass, United States
Previous Engagements: Figaro (Le Nozze di Figaro, Mozart, Lyric Opera of Kansas City), Mephistopheles (The Damnation of Faust, Berlioz, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic), The Speaker (The Magic Flute, Mozart, Seattle Opera).
Forthcoming Engagements: Soloist (Requiem, Mozart, San Diego Symphony), Soloist (Messiah, Handel, Musica Sacra, Carnegie Hall), Don Basilio (The Barber of Seville, Rossini, Kentucky Opera).