Composed by Marc-Antoine Charpentier
Libretto by Thomas Corneille
Based on Euripides’ Medea
Conducted by Christian Curnyn
Directed by James Darrah
Produced by Chicago Opera Theater
At the Harris Theater
Unhappy man, thou knowest not the full extent of thy misery.
– Euripides’ Medea
Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s final opera, his only tragedy, and arguably his masterpiece, Médée is a magnificent opera, blending Italian and French operatic styles with a deathless Greek masterpiece. It tells the story of Jason and Medea years after his travels with the Argonauts and their capture of the Golden Fleece. With two children, they show up at the gates of Creon’s Corinth, pursued by the armies of Thessaly; Medea, using her sorcery, tricked the daughters of Thessaly’s king into killing him. Medea fears that Jason will become ensorcelled by Creon’s daughter, Creusa, the beautiful princess. Indeed, her fears are founded, as Creon wants Jason for a son-in-law, even though he’s promised his daughter to Orontes, prince of Thebes, and Jason is very receptive. Medea is determined not to lose Jason, but once she discovers his deceit, she decides the last recourse left to her is to make sure he is left with nothing. And so she goes about taking away everything he strives for: Creon she drives mad, and in his madness, he kills Orontes and himself; Creusa she kills before Jason’s eyes, with a poisoned robe; and, finally, she stabs her own children, so that they would not have to bear the humiliation of being Jason’s children.
It is a familiar story, though Corneille did take some liberties with the libretto, and it is told well here. But the music is what is remarkable about this piece. Charpentier’s music is complex, deep and soaring, typically Baroque and yet transcending the genre to an extent. Conductor Christian Curnyn and James Darrah have sought out the passion and emotion in this piece, with the performers on stage and in the pit giving wrought and powerful performances. This presents an interesting dichotomy with the music: the Baroque orchestration is so refined and meticulously structured, following strict guidelines; yet the action on stage is immense, tragic, emotional. There is an incredible marriage here between the Apollonian music and the Dionysian story.
And the performers carry it off spectacularly. Colin Ainsworth’s Jason is wonderful, torn between his duty to his wife and his lust for Creusa. Paul LaRosa’s Orontes is powerful, as is Evan Boyer’s Creon. And Anna Stephany’s Medea is a force of nature. The only person whose voice was a little weak was Micaëla Oeste’s Creusa, but her acting was as strong as anyone else’s, and it’s entirely possible (perhaps even probable) that she was under the weather, or simply having an off night. Either way, when I say she was weaker, that is because she is compared with paragon voices, and hers was not unimpressive.
The production is also excellent. The costumes are beautiful, the color-scheme exceptionally well-visualized, the set creatively crafted, heightening and reflecting the growing tensions within the piece. This is a fantastic opera, wonderfully put on by Chicago Opera Theater.
Reviewed on 4.23.11
For full show information, visit TheatreinChicago.