Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur brings its 2015-’16 season to a close with a new production of Cherubini’s Medea this May.
Written in 1797, with a libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann, Medea has it all when it comes to the classic Greek tragedy – passion, betrayal, desperation, revenge, and murder. It falls into the category of an opéra-comique, a genre of French opera which is defined as comprising both arias and the spoken word, but despite its somewhat jaunty-sounding title, opéra-comique is not always comic or light-hearted, as can be seen in this dramatic work, which Cherubini based on Euripides’ tragedy Medea – first produced in 431 BC – and Pierre Corneille’s 1635 play Médée.
Luigi Cherubini was an Italian composer who spent most of his working life in France, and was regarded by Beethoven as the greatest of his contemporaries. Cherubini’s composing career spanned more than 60 years, during which the most important of his works were operas, religious masses and choral pieces.
Medea, though, is the one for which he’s best known, with a score which NPR Music says is “as daring as the drama itself, featuring some of the most innovative and expressive music in any opera”. It premiered at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris in March 1797.
Prior to the opening scene of Cherubini’s opera, a fair amount of the action in Euripides’ play has already taken place. Jason, the ancient Greek mythological hero and leader of the Argonauts, has already sailed to Colchis to obtain his inheritance by finding the Golden Fleece, despite the king of Colchis having been unwilling to give it up.
In stealing the Fleece, Jason was helped by the sorceress Medea – the king’s daughter – who, having fallen in love with him, has also borne him two sons. Having acquired the Fleece, Jason then deserts Medea, and taking his sons with him, has travelled to Corinth where he plans to marry Glauce, daughter of the king, Creon.
It is at this point that Cherubini’s opera takes up the story. Glauce knows about Medea and is afraid of her, and when Medea arrives in Corinth to claim her sons, she denounces the pending marriage, confirming Glauce’s worst fears. After much persuasion, Jason allows Medea to see her sons again, and she sends them to Glauce, bearing wedding gifts – a robe and a crown – both of which have been doused in poison. Glauce succumbs to the consequences of Medea’s vengeful deed, and with her death, a grief-stricken Jason rushes out of the palace, planning to seize Medea and rescue his children. He is too late, though. Medea has taken them into the temple, killed them and set fire to the building, the flames engulfing her as the temple collapses.
The role of Medea in this production is sung by German-born soprano Nicola Beller-Carbone, making her debut in the role. Italian tenor Gabriele Mangione is Jason. French soprano Hélène Le Corre is Glauce, the role of her father Creon is sung by French baritone Bernard Imbert, and Italian mezzo-soprano Daniela Pini is Neris, Medea’s confidante.
Greek conductor George Petrou leads the Nice Philharmonic Orchestra and the Chorus of Opera Nice. Stage director is Guy Montavon, costumes and set are by Anne-Marie Woods, and lighting by Hervé Gary.
Medea, a co-production between Nice Opera, Landestheater Linz and Theater Erfurt, is sung in Italian, and takes place at Opera Nice Côte d’Azur on 13, 17 and 19 May at 8.00 pm, and on 22 May at 3.00 pm. For more information visit the Opéra de Nice website. Tickets cost from €40 and may be reserved online.
Opéra Nice Côte d’Azur
4-6, rue Saint François de Paule
Tel: +33 4 92 17 40 79 (Box Office)
All photos courtesy Opéra de Nice / Ville de Nice; lead image © S. Novcović