Tag Archives: Medea

Top 5 most read posts of 2013

31 Dec

Most read of 2013The end of the year makes us all look back at statistics and moments of the previous twelve months.

Here is the top 5 blog posts of the year

1 Why I don’t like Sinfini

The quasi free-spirited website, that is meant to be run by passionate music lovers, but is indeed a property of Universal Music, who owns over 70% of the classical recording labels output

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/08/05/why-i-dont-like-sinfini/

2 Kicking the Prommers to the ground is poor form

The rather unnecessary attack on prommers by Christopher Gillett…a blatant attempt at click baiting by Sinfini?

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/07/17/ah-mr-gillett/

3 Gergiev gets a London welcome

A post on the rather blasé  approach by maestro Gergiev on the goings on back in Russia. It seems the campaigning has had limited success as he still seems to be largely unwilling to make any definitive statements. We will be happy to see his departure from the LSO by the end of 2015.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/11/01/gergiev-gets-a-london-welcome/

4 The shine of the blade / English National Opera’s Medea

The post on a glorious dress rehearsal that blew my socks off. Sarah Connolly in blazing form taking on and conquering one of the gems of the French baroque repertoire. I was floored by the intensity and would count it among the most memorable performances of my opera going life to date.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/02/15/eno-medea/

5 Wimsy and gorgeousness / Sophie Bevan and Sebastian Wybrew recital at Wigmore Hall

A gorgeous recital by two very accomplished young stars that was instantly charming and affecting. The rendition of Barber’s Hermit Songs was so fresh and beautifully realised it put a spring on my step.

https://operacreep.wordpress.com/2013/03/18/sophie-bevan-sebastian-wybrew-recital-wigmore-hall-17-march-2013/

A mixed bag but shows how topical subjects tend to be read more.

The shine of the blade / Medea / English National Opera – 13 February 2013 (dress rehearsal)

15 Feb

ENO MedeaSeeing David McVicar slowly metamorphosing into the new Zeffirelli at the Met Opera in the last couple of years, I was a little bit weary about how idea rich his take on Charpentier’s Medea could be.  French Baroque thrives on dance and spectacle and a director that comes up short can sink a production. I was hoping for some of  the verve and invention from his Glyndebourne production of Giulio Cesare in Egitto than the stale Anna Bolena and Maria Stuarda of late. But one thing I was sure about was the excellent fit of Sarah Connolly for the title role, last November she gave a captivating rendition of Quel Prix in concert but nothing could have prepared me for the outstanding quality of this production.

I know a lot of people don’t like reports based on the dress rehearsal but as I am seeing it twice more later in the run I promise to update if any other observations creep in that make revision imperative.

The performance lasts near 3 hours and 20 minutes, as McVicar and Curnyn decided (wisely in my view) to cut the half hour prelude in praise of the Sun King. After the short and punchy overture we are thrown straight into the torments of (the newly arrived in Corinth) Medea. The setting is a wartime 1940s panelled interior, the set slightly angled at 70 degrees with a raked mirrored floor. Three tall grazed French doors (oh the English terminology comes handy in context) are leading into a peripheral corridor that is used for myriad entries and exits throughout the evening. A simple unfussy but sophisticated backdrop, its faded neoclassicism a subtle allusion to the original period of the work. Straight from the start the smooth changeover from waiting room to an officer’s mess room (complete with uniformed cocktail waiter) is handled with great care, with stage hands dressed in tuxedos befitting the stately setting of the work. With the restrictions that an Edwardian theatre like the Coliseum imposes on each director McVicar showed his class as a world renowned specialist in the field. The set even though static till the last few minutes of this production, constantly changes with subtle cues, the spotlights in the corners of the room move in to make a more intimate atmosphere or to spotlight the King while lying on the floor beaten by Medea’s magical powers in Act Four. The large glazed doors acquire opaque panes and the wall sconces acquire lit candles in the last Act. By extinguishing them before the final scene the smell of wax travels across the auditorium adding an olfactory element to this production.

The costumes are exquisite with great attention to detail. The 1940s atmosphere staying strong with the tailored nature of all the womenswear and the officers’ uniforms. The glamour of the robe (here changing into a rather eye-catching gold lamé evening dress) as Connolly reveals it in her travelling trunk in the first few minutes on stage, also closes the opera three hours later having been poisoned by her and worn by Creuse who dies a painful (if beautifully sung) death. This being baroque opera, amongst all the tragedy we get a lot of dancing. And I am delighted to report that McVicar’s mix of romp and camp works so well it truly adds interest and makes the dances feel more integrated than during ENO’s last foray with Castor and Pollux where the dances seemed disconnected and throwaway. As originally planned for the French court the dances add amusement and atmosphere and slight relief from the tragedy at the centre of the work. The very first example is with the dancers donning RAF uniforms in a dark blue colour, their vibrant routine surely caused a raucous applause and added some light relief to a very sombre beginning. The six male and six female dancers appear in many guises, zombie-like denizens of the underworld (following the cross dressing personifications of Vengeance and Jealousy) to spirits of beautiful women. The biggest tableaux using the dancers is the “party scene” with the appearance of Aoife O’Sullivan as Cupid with black glittery wings aboard a Spitfire covered in pink glitter (standing in for Cupid’s chariot), surely the campest prop to grace a stage for some time! On the side of the pink plane there’s  a large stylised fan on a podium with a period microphone awaiting in a jazz siren style for an Italian captive of love (Sophie Junker) to sing Chi teme d’amore Il grato martire (left in the original Italian here).

It would be impossible to overstate how towering Sarah Connolly’s performance was. She dispatched this difficult role with such elegance and stamina. I was totally blown away. Her unwavering intensity while singing in the original soprano key was spectacular. A few times she sacrificed the beauty of the line for the sake of expression, especially when addressing Creon and Jason but it added such variety and pathos I don’t think even the most narrow-minded critic will find fault. When William Christie gave her the CD set of his recording and told Connolly this was the role for her, he was absolutely right. Once she hits the floor in Act Three and sings her pivotal aria Quel Prix de mon Amour the transformation from wronged wife to a woman driven by pain looking for revenge  is unavoidable. Soon after she discards both her jacket and skirt to continue the scene in a black negligee and evoke the spirits of hades to help her. McVicar uses the stage lift as the pit where smoke and her demonic assistants come through. It was a huge relief that he chose such a standard way to introduce them instead of trying to reinvent the wheel needlessly. At this point she is armed with a large kitchen knife that is her companion for the rest of the production as she closes in to her final act of vengeance against Jason. Fittingly the last coup de théâtre belongs to Medea, when the corner of the set comes apart and she sings her final words to Jason and then she is elevated and flies away. This was another example of the Director not trying to re-invent the action but followed on the steps of both Charpentier and Euripides in the Greek original. Also another telling approach that looks back at the performance practises of ancient Greek drama, was how the dead bodies of Creon and Orontes are presented. They appear on trolleys under the cover of blood splattered sheets. A very similar device to how the dead would be wheeled on an Ekkyklema a practise maybe not that familiar to British audiences but anyone with any background in the Classics would instantly recognise it.

As you can tell by now, I am very happy with the staging and it all came together so beautifully to make up one of the best opera evenings I’ve ever attended. Connolly gives a definitive interpretation, surely a highlight of her illustrious career so far. The rest of the cast get somewhat overshadowed by her presence but some great singing comes from Katherine Manley especially in her duets with Jason and Medea revealing a voice of great flexibility and a characterful actress. Jeffrey Francis give a very potent performance with voice to spare. The slightly goofy personenregie for Orontes does benefit by the lightness of touch that Roderick Williams brings to it. Brindley Sherratt brought gravitas and made for a great opponent to Medea, but crucially relaxed when left with Creusa away from his public function. Aoife O’Sullivan, Oliver Dunn and Rhian Lois give performances full of gusto and promise.

The orchestra gave a vibrant reading of the score with a few raw edges that will disappear before the first night. Like with Castor and Pollux Christian Curnyn manages to coax some idiomatic playing from the players while taking them out of their comfort zone.  The chorus sings beautifully through the evening, sometimes in military uniform and others in evening dress from stage and pit. Navigates Charpentier’s deceptively subtle but fiendishly difficult melodies with skill and obvious affection.

If you’ve read this far, I congratulate you and also implore you to go and see this truly wonderful production, do not be put off by the translation or the lack of “period instruments” this is an occasion to treasure and an all too rare chance to see this masterpiece of the French Baroque in London. This is one of those performances you will be telling friends about twenty years from now…GO!

ENO Medea list

Some Tweets from the evening

Twitter - OperaCreep- Woa McVicar #ENOmedea

Twitter - OperaCreep- Oh dress rehearsal audience ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- If this is not a career highlight ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- To the people that don't get ...

Twitter - OperaCreep- It was lovely having the chance ...

Hold on tight Medea is coming

16 Jan

Sarah Connolly sings ‘Such is the price of love’ / Quel prix de mon amour

You all know with how much excitement I’ve been waiting for this production to finally arrive. Since the launch of the season last April I have been intrigued what David McVicar will do with Charpentier’s glorious baroque confection.
With Covent Garden pretty much ignoring baroque, relegating it downstairs, claiming audiences would not be interested in sufficient numbers and without a period instrument orchestra. It is the turn of opera loving audiences to prove them wrong.

According to the press release: ENO’s new production of Medea relocates the famous Greek tragedy to the 1940s, setting it against a decadent, hyper-stylised 1940s backdrop which McVicar describes as “styled to within an inch of its life”

If you have the slightest interest in baroque opera or want to see one of the greatest British singers, don’t miss this opportunity.  The last foray into this era by ENO with Castor and Pollux was a sparkling triumph of young talent.

———————Ticket Offer alert

50% off certain seats for the following dates: 
Friday 15  + Wednesday 20  + Friday 22  + Thursday 28 February + Wednesday 6 + Friday 8 March

Promo code: GUARDEXMED

More details here:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/extra/members/2013/jan/23/extra-medea-offer

Dangerous sex appeal and OAP “dancing” / Queens, Heroines and Ladykillers: Three eras of divas / Royal Festival Hall – 30 September 2012

2 Oct

What can anyone say about Anna Caterina Antonacci that hasn’t been written over and over again over the last twenty years. On Sunday night she proved to be one of the finest dramatic singers of our times. Dressed in a gorgeous silk crepe dress in darkest charcoal, resembling molten rubber in its movement and pearl jewellery she looked every inch the diva.

Ana Cata listAnyone starting a programme with Medea’s Act One aria is asking for trouble and indeed she did sound not fully warmed up and an aria of such emotional depth that makes demand from the widest extents of the singer’s range is a risk. Of course what makes Antonacci such a supreme artist is her sense of danger, her magnetic sex appeal and her consummate attention to the material at hand. Her ability to switch on to the character in seconds from the musical introduction is astonishing at close proximity, her eyes flaming with the rage of the abandoned woman who comes to claim Jason as hers. One is incapable to take their eyes off her, the fresh sounding OAE created the perfect conditions for Antonacci to weave her spell with this most favourite of arias. Her delivery may not have been as smooth as could have been but Cherubini’s intended vim and brilliance were there in abundance.

The biting command of the character and reality she brought to it continued in her other arias. Having portrayed two of  the characters on stage before must have been a great help for her.
O malheureuse Iphigénie was deeply moving with her singing caressing the delicate playing of the orchestra.  Once more her incisive singing, paying attention to every single word was simply wonderful. Many a singer can get on a concert platform and do a diva approximation, Antonacci embodied the grandeur of Gluck’s tragedy with such decorum and charisma. Proving what a rare commodity she really is.

After the interval she sang Didon’s last aria from Les Troyens Je vais mourir… Adieu, fière cité and while she may not have the smooth plush sound that Eva-Maria  spoilt us with, in the recent staging at the Royal Opera, she brought an immaculate presence and sense of drama and precision to the text. What she did for Cassandre at Covent Garden she pretty much repeated on a concert platform for Didon. A perfect example why I am unhappy tolerate inadequate acting on the operatic stage, a pretty sounding voice and immaculate technique are never enough, especially when a theatrical dynamo like Antonacci is gracing stages worldwide.

Her encore was Chanson Bohème from Carmen (a great lead into the Bizet symphony that followed) and again her vibrant characterisation and passionate delivery was short of astounding. An instant reminder of her past as the seminal Carmen   of the last 15 years. And again the transition from distraught queen of Carthage to furious gypsy was instantaneous and complete. This was seriously an evening not to be forgotten.

Of course you will ask how was the Haydn and the Bizet and I will tell you very good as the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment is too professional to be dragged down by Roger Norrington’s barely there conducting. I am afraid the Haydn conducting consisted of the nation’s favourite conducting granddad in his nightgown dancing embarrassingly to every change of tempo and subtle nuance. It maybe would have been better to try to bring together the different parts of the symphony instead of giving us the Norrington show which was excruciating. Instead of maybe having the score for both pieces he was just reduced to a strange acrobatic act. Interestingly when a score was produced for the arias and the dances by Gluck the conducting was a bit more focused and the orchestra responded accordingly.

The orchestra acquitted itself with some deliciously French sounding playing with oboes creating the colourful backbone for Gluck and Cherubini, while Lisa Beznosiuk’s flute playing was a constant source of joy, particularly in the second movement of the Haydn.  They were also helped by the more resonant acoustic of the hall, since the organ loft was open (with half the pipes still away for restoration) adding much-needed reverberation.

I wonder if the acres of empty seats inside the Royal Festival Hall can be attributed to Norrington or just that on a Sunday night Londoners are not prepared to get out for one of the greatest singers of our times? Whatever the reason, it was a shame for her to have to look out at a half full auditorium.

Looking forward to the second instalment of the series next month with the beloved Sarah Connolly …thankfully this concert takes place at the smaller, nearby, Queen Elizabeth Hall.

And on a shamelessly commercial level…I would urge everyone to get a copy of this just released song recital from the Wigmore Hall.

Some tweets from the evening


Antonacci in action

Cherubini’s Medea, Maria Kalogeropoulou* and the start of a lasting obsession

11 Mar

Callas filming Medea in Turkey

In the last fifteen years I have been exposed to a lot of singers but one that will always have a central place in my heart and mind is Callas. My first encounter was through the media in Greece, for years seeing photographs and brief excerpts of performances. They were intriguing but had no suitable opportunities to investigate further.

My best friend at school (also a George, not surprisingly) was a curious, arty guy and we were discussing that it would be fun to try and get some student standby tickets for the opera house in Athens. A few weeks later we saw a performance of Rigoletto and the whole spectacle made a great impact on us and decided to go back for more. The next year (1997) it was the anniversary of Callas’ death and the Megaron (the splendid Athens Concert Hall) revived Cherubini’s Medea in Italian for the occasion. It was very tricky getting tickets for it and unfortunately didn’t manage to get any to see Grace Bumbry perform, but we got to see Rosalind Plowright who was in rather bad voice on the night. An interesting fact was that it was conducted by Carlo Felice Cillario, who had conducted Callas’ last few Toscas at Covent Garden (of course at the time I was oblivious to this fact). My best friend was obsessed with ancient Greek mythology and Medea set to music seemed a great prospect. Have to admit that we had a great time watching the drama unfold from the presidential box (which at the time was on sale as day tickets for students, which seems bizarre, but true).

A couple of days later, armed with the knowledge from the programme, that Callas had recorded the role in the studio in 1957, went to a couple of small record shops that specialised in classical and opera repertoire. None of them could help me, the answer I got was…oh it’s such an old recording, buy something more recent blah blah blah. So I walked into Metropolis, the largest music store in Athens and rushed to the miniscule classical department and asked for Callas’ Medea. The assistant looked it up that they did not have it in stock and offered to order it for me if I could wait for a few days. After I count my pocket money and was satisfied I had enough, I asked him to order it for me. (Ah how much easier has this process been made today with Amazon and Spotify?) 4-5 days later I got a phone call that Medea was waiting for me! Got myself on a bus and central Athens, here I come! I remember the assistant showing me the disc set asking me if it was the right item, I took a look at the cover and a Callas with long hair and intensely outstretched arms was the heroine I had imagined.

I think the fact that the live performance was about a week behind me when I listened for the first time to the recording, accentuated the effect it had on me. I was taken into a trip of seduction with the lush sound of the strings (La Scala’s highly competent orchestra), much more lush than anything a Greek orchestra could ever muster. And when it came to the appearance of Medea in front of Creonte and the Corinthians I was speechless at this moving, aggressive, knowing and still desperate character. It seemed to me to suggest more images than the live performance I had witnessed. Something I would never had thought possible. And I believe this is the first reason why Callas’ artistry matters to me, it totally transforms a character and shapes the listener’s imagination and totally transfixes. An effect totally mystical and inexplicable, especially with the shoddy 1950s-60s EMI sound engineering.

When I left Greece a few months later this double CD was one of the few things I took with me for my new life in Britain. Medea’s laments and curses filling my tiny student room and galvanising me on difficult days and keeping me company when writing art history essays based on the latest Hayward Gallery exhibition. That recording was a constant companion for at least five years and it became a familiar motif to anyone that met me at University. Every single person I became close friends with, had gone through a two hour “Medeathlon” with me. It was a sort of a rite of passage for the fledging friendship.

That Medea opened the door to all her other recordings and on to a myriad of other singers. It gave me a perfect way to escape in an exciting secret universe. That is the very reason why I get furious when I get off the cuff comments about how awful and overrated Callas is. For me she is a shinning beacon of beauty, truth and meaningful musicianship. If it wasn’t for her incandescent recordings I would possibly not have discovered, Birgit, Elisabeth, Kirsten, Renata, Giulietta, Anna, Montserrat, Beverly, Cecilia, Joyce, Anne Sofie, Patricia, Natalie, Teresa, Leontyne, Jessye, Vaso, Ebe, Angela, Joan, Katia, Shirley, Marilyn, Regina,Veronique, Fiorenza, Miriam, Regine, Magda, Kiri, Tatianna, Agnes, Petra, Karita, Hildegard, Margaret…I will always be thankful for that, dare say, life changing live Medea. And it is highly disappointing that due to copyright and licensing issues this magnificent performance it’s near impossible to buy, depriving a new generation of fans from discovering it.

*Thought it would be fun to use her full name for a change.

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