Radvanovsky is the Medea of the 2020s in David McVicar’s visceral Met production

United StatesUnited States Met: Live in HD – Cherubini’s Medea: Soloists, Chorus and Orchestra of the Metropolitan Opera, New York / Carlo Rizzi (conductor). Broadcast live (directed by Gary Halvorson) to the Barbican Cinema, London, 22.10.2022. (CC)

Sondra Radvanovsky as Medea © Marty Sohl/The Met Opera

Director and Set designs – David McVicar
Costumes – Doey Lüthi
Lighting – Paule Constable
Movement director – Jo Meredith
Projection designer – S. Katy Tucker

Medea – Sondra Radvanovsky
Glauce – Janai Brugger
Neris – Ekaterina Gubanova
Giasone – Matthew Polenzani
Creonte – Michele Pertusi

Sondra Radvanovsky has impressed audiences worldwide previously, but I wonder if this Medea at the Met – the opera’s first performance there – is her defining moment despite her already being a global star. One has to wait a while – quite a long while – for Medea herself to make her mark but Cherubini allows his titular heroine much of the final act to herself. Radvanovsky has big shoes to fill, of course – one Maria Callas gave her own defining performances in the 1950s. Radvanovsky is the Medea of the 2020s, though, supported by David McVicar’s visceral production. No shortage of flames here, or dark atmosphere – and a rather interesting trompe l’oeil using mirrors to give extra-dimensional space to what we see – mightily impressive in the cinema, for sure. A woman, mouth open, dominates the imagery, taking us back to Ancient Greece, but Radvanovsky persuades us that these emotions are eternal, and as much of the now as of archaic times.

This was the Metropolitan Opera’s first opera of its 2022/23 season, and what a way to start. Cherubini takes Euripides’s play via François-Benoir Hoffman’s libretto and forges a spectacular evening of drama. The musical language sits between Classical and Romantic, Carlo Rizzi pitches the orchestral contribution perfectly, the Met Orchestra clearly loving every moment.

In fact, with Rizzi in the pit, this was a decidedly energised evening, the Sinfonia to Act I full of verve, exceptionally reproduced via the Barbican Cinema’s loudspeakers, not to mention the stormier moments.

There is no doubt the plot of Medea is dramatic with Medea, the witch who in the final act murders her own children. It was in that final act the Radvanovsky absolutely shone. She is a soprano but with a developed lower range that works perfectly in this part. Her final scenes were incredibly gripping, the vocal and the dramatic as one. She seemed to own the role, absolutely living every moment while exhibiting total vocal control.

It is rare to have a cast of this calibre in Medea, and how it showed. Janai Brugger, who I have not heard ‘live’ before, was a fine, agile Glauce; luxury casting perhaps for Michele Pertusi as Creonte (a fabulously firm bass), with Matthew Polenzani offering a strong Giasone (not a nice man in the story), while Ekaterina Gubanova’s Neris provided a ‘Solo un pianto’ (with its superbly played bassoon obbligato) that was markedly memorable.

It would be unconscionable not to mention the splendour of the Met’s chorus, a glory in and of itself and a vital part of the action.

David McVicar’s Medea at the Metropolitan Opera © Marty Sohl/The Met Opera

McVicar’s dark production, superbly lit by the seemingly omnipresent Paule Constable, suits Cherubini’s masterwork superbly, while Rizzi’s impeccable conducting throughout ensured the work cohered perfectly. Let us hope his production makes it to Covent Garden, and let us hope that if so, it is Radvanovsky who takes the titular role. A corker of an evening, and while the Barbican’s sound system behaved perfectly, one does wonder just how incredible this would have been experienced live.

The Met: Live in HD experience was all in place with the familiar interviews and backstage manoeuvrings, all there to create atmosphere. A fabulous reminder of the stature of Cherubini’s masterpiece – and a testament to the artistry of Sondra Radvanovsky.

Colin Clarke

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