ENO’s Medea has all the signs of success
25 January 2013, London, UK
Sarah Connolly as ENO's Medea(Photo: Richard Hubert Smith)
For most big opera companies, Baroque repertoire involves an occasional foray into works by Handel. English National Opera is once again breaking the mould with its exploration of French baroque repertoire from the 17th century, an exceptionally fertile yet relatively untrammelled era, full of grand operatic works that have substance as well as style, packed full of thought-provoking themes.
After a theatrically daring and musically exquisite staging of Rameau’s Castor and Pollux, ENO turns to Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s masterpiece Medea, premiered in 1693. It’s a coruscating tale of suspicion, infidelity, revenge, murder and shocking infanticide, describing the tragic downfall of the sorceress Medea, mother of Jason (of Golden Fleece fame). The music is masterly and forward-looking in the way it illuminates the inner lives of the opera’s protagonists. Charpentier’s great coup is to treat the chorus and dance sequences as integral to the narrative, rather than as merely diverting ‘set pieces’. Medea’s summoning of demons as she prepares to poison her rival, is a chilling and atmospheric case in point.
ENO, meanwhile, has summoned a magical cast for David McVicar’s stylish, cinematic updating of the work to the elegant but emotionally disturbed interwar era of the 20th century. This is a chance to hear two of Britain’s very finest singers in extraordinary taxing but rewarding roles: Sarah Connolly as Medea and Roderick Williams as Orontes. The American tenor Jeffrey Francis makes his ENO debut as Jason, having established his credentials as a fine Baroque and Mozart specialist in several major opera houses in Europe.
Christian Curnyn conducts Charpentier’s powerful score, full of incident, with unexpectedly vivid bursts of orchestral colour that bring the drama to life. ENO’s Medea shows every sign of being one of the highlights of the 2012/13 opera season.
ENO's Medea runs from 15 February to 16 March 2013 at the Coliseum, London.