The award-winning Boosey & Hawkes / Simrock edition of Médée, first performed in 2008, freed this classic opera from all the distortions of the 19th and 20th centuries. Now the Teatro Real is presenting a new production of this French original version, supplemented with recitatives by early music specialist Alan Curtis.
Luigi Cherubini's Médée, first performed in Paris in 1797, is one of the great masterpieces of operatic literature, in which the dark and supressed sensitivities of an epoch erupt, allowing the work to transcend its period of composition thanks to its universal power. The cruelty of the plot, which found its mirror in a tonal language never heard before, shocked contemporaries who still had the horrors of Robespierre's reign of terror in their bones only a few years earlier.
Significantly, Médée was initially only a respectable success, whereas Cherubini's humanist The Water Carrier (Les Deux Journées), first performed in 1800, was celebrated with performances throughout Europe. Médée's potential unfolded only slowly and in strange ways. François-Benoît Hoffmann's brilliant libretto was originally conceived as a tragédie lyrique for the Académie royale de musique and was to be composed by Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne. The plan fell through. Cherubini was ‘second choice’, so to speak, and the Théâtre Feydeau, which took over the premiere, was only allowed to perform opéra-comiques, i.e. operas with spoken dialogue instead of recitatives. Much of Hoffmann's text remained uncomposed.
Cherubini's Médée experienced its first renaissance in 1855 with Franz Lachner's recitatives recomposed in an inauthentic historic style using an Italian translation of the libretto. In this version, the opera then found its way into the 20th century repertoire through the internationally acclaimed assumption by Maria Callas of the role of the double child murderess.
With the aim of restoring the work to its original intentions as a French opéra-comique, Heiko Cullmann created a new edition using Cherubini's original orchestration which was first used for a stage production in 2008. This edition was immediately acclaimed and awarded the German Music Edition Prize, and since 2012 has been available for performance from Simrock / Boosey & Hawkes. The dramatic explosive power of this version was increasingly recognised, and the first productions in Vienna and Brussels were followed by further major stagings in Lisbon, London, Berlin and Salzburg.
Presenting Médée in its original conception as a tragédie lyrique no longer seemed a viable option once Lachner's recitatives and performance in Italian were recognised as obsolete. However, in 2015 Alan Curtis, the period performance specialist, managed to square the circle: he made up for what Cherubini himself was unable to realise due to lack of time or interest, and after intensive research and using stylistic elements from other operas by Cherubini from the 1790s, composed recitatives based on the original Alexandrines penned by Hoffmann.
Now this tragédie lyrique version, premiered in Ulm in 2015, is being performed for the first time in a new production at Madrid's Teatro Real opening on 19 September in a staging by Paco Azorín under the musical direction of Ivor Bolton. The multiple casting is led by Maria Agresta, Saioa Hernandez and Maria Pia Piscitelli as Medea and Enea Scala and Francesco Demuro as Jason.
The Madrid production is presented as a tribute to Maria Callas (1923–1977), celebrating her centenary year with an opera central to her repertoire.
> Médée at the Teatro Real
Médée (Medea) (1793–97)
Tragédie lyrique in three acts
Libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann (1760-1828)
Critical Edition by Heiko Cullmann
with French recitatives by Alan Curtis
19 September to 4 October 2023
First production at the Teatro Real, Madrid
New staging, in co-production with the Abu Dhabi Festival
Conductor: Ivor Bolton
Production and scenery: Paco Azorín
Costumes: Ana Garay
Lighting: Pedro Yagüe
Video design: Pedro Chamizo
Ensemble, Choir and Orchestra of the Teatro Real
> Further information on Performance: Médée
> Further information on Work: Médée
Photo: promotional graphic © Teatro Real
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