Wednesday 6 July 2005

Birthday 2

No sooner had we recovered from my birthday concert than we went off to Paris, by Eurostar. Staying in a a delightful hotel in the Marais, Hotel du Petit Moulin, designed by Christian Lacroix, we spent most of the time just pottering around, eating and indulging in retail therapy. But on Sunday afternoon we went to the Chatelet Theatre to see Cherubini's Medea. The production was originally at Tolouse and you can read the reviews and see pictures here, at the Opera Critic site

It was performed by forces from Toulouse, conducted by Evelino Pido. Anna Caterina Antonacci looked fabulous as Medea and gave a tremendous performance, only marred by a steeliness in her upper register which rather hinted that the role lay a little uncomfortably high for her. She was dramatically intense without ever resorting to the scenery chewing mode which singers often resort to in this music.

Despite the dramatic intensity of the story, this is music written in the 18th century. The opera is notable for Cherubini's rich use of the orchestra in support of the singers; but his vocal lines never go much beyond the musical propriety of the time. It requires singers of stature to bring the roles to life. Antonacci did that well, but Giasone was less well served. Albanian tenor Giuseppe Gipali's CV covers mainly 19th century Italian opera so it was difficult to see why he had been engaged.
He did manage to sing with a good line, but was stiff. The remainder of the cast were creditable

Yannis Kokkos had used admirable restraint in his production, emphasising the classicism inherent in Cherubini's work and using this to point up the difference in moeurs between Medea and Giasone and his adopted country. Kokkos' designs were simple (just stairs and doors) in classical mode, the only point of note was the colour scheme of black and gold; even the singers wore uniform black (except Medea). Giasone and the Argonauts started in gold but even they conformed.

Whilst I enjoyed the production, it did not convince some French friends who though it insufficiently dramatic. Overall the results were, I think, creditable rather than superb and I left with a niggling feeling that the performers had done well by Cherubini but could have done superbly. Perhaps one of the problems was that the opera was done in Italian with the Lachner recitatives. I read in the press that this was because Antonacci was relutanct to do the French spoken dialogue (does this mean that she won't do the dialogue when she does Carmen at Covent Garden?). Whatever the reason, I think the opera works far better with spoken dialogue, rather than Lachner's attempts at dramatic recitative; the aria/dialogue mix emphasises the opera's otherness

This was my 5th production of the opera having first seen it at the Buxton Festival (with I think Rosalind Plowright) in a production which completely lacked classical poise. Plowright turned up again in the Royal Opera production mounted for the centenary of the French revolution (again there were problems casting Jason). Probably the best stage version was that at Opera North where Phyllida Lloyd's production enabled Josephine Barstow to give a superb performance. But I still have happy memories of the concert performance, at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, with the Orchestra of the Age of Englightenment. Where Elizabeth Connell's Medee made her first appearance, declaiming furiously, from the rear of the hall - pricelessly dramatic.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:18 pm

    Plowright was indeed the Medée at Buxton in 1984. Her Jason was Howard Haskin and the conductor was Anthony Hose. At Covent Garden the disaster of the production was squarley on the shoulders of Jeremy Isaacs and Paul Findlay who insisted on engaging Mike Ashman even after his earlier disaster with Der Fliegender Hollaender. A much better staging had been presented to the Garden by the late Michael Rennison and although Plowright was given choice of conductor and producer, the management of that time overruled her appointing the wrong conductor and director. Plowright made one mistake herself which was not to pull out.


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