Medea Mehta Urmana

SpainSpain Luigi Cherubini, Medea: Soloists, Valencian Community Orchestra, Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana, Zubin Mehta (conductor), Palau de Les Arts, Valencia, 17.6.2012 (JMI)

New Production

Director: Gerardo Vera
Sets: Gerardo Vera
Costumes. Alejandro Andújar
Lighting: Juan Gómez-Cornejo
Videos: Álvaro Luna


Medea: Violeta Urmana
Jason. Sergei Skorokhodov
Neris: María José Montiel
Glauce: Ofelia Sala
Creonte: Dmitri Beloselski

The Mediterranean Festival performance of Cherubini’s Medea was of great interest for any opera lover and, in short, wonderful. For one, it is a rarely performed opera, especially in Spain. In fact, I’ve only so far seen it outside Spain. Then it had going for it Zubin Mehta, whose conducting of an 18th century opera is also a rarity. And finally it was the debut of Violeta Urmana in the title role, a role so closely linked to Maria Callas.

Medea is considerably more interesting than your run-of-the-mill 18th century operas. I think the work could be improved upon considerably, if the libretto were to include and begin with the love affair between Jason and Medea, though, which would help to understand Medea’s desire for vengeance.

available at AmazonCherubini, Medea,
Leonard Bernstein / La Scala
Callas, Barbieri et al. (1953)

Medea started out as Medée, its title when it was premiered in Paris – in French. However, every time I had the chance to see it, it was always in the Italian version. The origin of this version of the opera emerged in 1854 in Germany where Fritz Lachner changed the French dialogues to music recitatives – in German – based on the Italian-language, shortened Vienna version from 1808. Then Carlo Zangarini translated the German Lachner version back into Italian for the first performance of Medea at La Scala in 1909 which is the version that Maria Callas has put back into the repertoire with her 1953 performance and the version some of the great sopranos of the second half of the 20th century has used..

Valencia’s production by Gerardo Vera wasn’t what made the show interesting. He sets it in an antique amphitheater of sorts, with timeless costumes are that strike me as quite appropriate for an opera like Medea, since she is not a historical figure, but rather a myth. And myths, of course, are timeless. Some interesting video projections with the Golden Fleece as the object were shown, and while Vera narrates the story effectively, he falls short when it comes to directing his actors.

Mr. Mehta reading was full of life and energy, always supportive of the singers, who were never covered by the sound coming out from the pit. The musicians performed well for him, as did the Choir. It was a wonderful opportunity to see Mehta excel in 18th century repertoire that isn’t Mozart.

Violeta Urmana as Medea was of curious interest to me: Not for the suitability of her voice to the role, about which I was convinced before hand, but I have always found her rather cold on stage, which does not well suit a character so visceral as Medea’s. But Ms. Urmana excelled. No objection from the standpoint of voice, singing with strength and good taste, except perhaps a few too metallic high notes. Her interpretation was most convincing, better even than that of the fine Anna Caterina Antonacci, who was the last Medea I saw on stage. (Archived S&H review here.)

Russian tenor Sergei Skorokhodov, perhaps the best of his kind in Russia along with Vladimir Galutzin, was a very fine Jason and offered a compelling interpretation. He is a lyric tenor, with an attractive voice, very smooth singing, and good expressiveness. I think it’s the first time I have attended a performance of Medea, where Jason was well cast.

Neris, Medea’s servant, is a secondary character, but she has a hugely important second act aria which is the real showstopper of this opera. Maria Jose Montiel managed excellently, singing with good taste and outstanding feeling – which a grateful public repaid with the biggest ovations during the performance, only comparable to Jorge de León’s “La Pira” the night before. How this remarkable Spanish singer has so far been overlooked by the big houses in our country is a mystery to me.

Ofelia Sala as Glauce performed a few rungs below her colleagues while Ukrainian bass Dmitry Beloselsky, a luxury cast in the role of Creonte, impressed.

José Mª Irurzun

Picture courtesy Palau de Les Arts