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O'Reilly Theatre, National Opera House

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.

Act 1

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.

Act 2

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.

Act 3

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


Act 1 – 54 mins
Interval 30 mins
Act 2 – 45 mins
Act 3 - 37 mins (82 mins)


MedeaLise Davidsen
GlauceRuth Iniesta
NerisRaffaella Lupinacci
JasonSergey Romanovskiy
King CreonAdam Lau
HandmaidensEmma Nash
Bethany Kallan Remfry
CaptainThomas D. Hopkinson
Medea's Dead BrotherNico Migliorati
ChildrenAoibhe Broaders
Lucy Caulfield,
Anthony Kenna
Rioch Kinsella
SupernumerariesRyan Blanch
Deirdre Finn
Edele Morris
RépétiteurAndrea Grant
Critical editionFlavio Testi
A co- productionOpera omaha

Creative team

ComposerLuigi Cherubini
ConductorStephen Barlow
DirectorFiona Shaw
Set DesignAnnmarie Woods
Costume DesignAnnmarie Woods
Lighting DesignD.M. Woods
ChoreographerKim Brandstrup
Chorus MasterErrol Girdlestone
Stage ManagerTheresa Tsang
SubtitlesJonathan Burton
MiscellaneousTragedy in three acts, Libretto by François Benoit Hoffman (Italian version by Carlo Zangarini, Sung in Italian

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