19, 22, 28 October | 3 November
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.
A co-production with Opera Omaha
28 October performance generously supported by
TERRY AND MARJORIE NEILL
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