Cherubini’s Médée is staged for the first time at Teatro Real

SpainSpain Cherubini, MédéeTeatro Real Chorus and Orchestra / Ivor Bolton (conductor). Teatro Real, Madrid, 19 & 20.9.2023. (JMI)

Maria Agresta (Médée) and Enea Scala (Jason) © J. del Real

Director and Sets – Paco Azorín
Costumes – Ana Garay
Lighting – Pedro Yagüe

Médée – Maria Agresta / Saioa Hernández
Jason – Enea Scala / Francesco Demuro
Neris – Nancy Fabiola Herrera / Silvia Tro Santafé
Creon – Jongmin Park / Michael Mofidian
Dirce – Sara Blanch / Marina Monzó
First Maid – Mercedes Gancedo
Second Maid – Alexandra Urquiola
Corifeo – David Lagares

Teatro Real inaugurated its opera season with Luigi Cherubini’s Médée, which is being done for the first time in the long history of the theater. Médée in the French version (or Medea in the Italian one) is undoubtedly Cherubini’s best-known opera, although I cannot say it is the most popular since none of his operas are programmed often. This one owes its notoriety to the fact that it was one of the highlights in the career of María Callas, who was born 100 years ago. The Teatro Real dedicated the performances to the memory of La Divina. 

The original French version contains spoken dialogues, which are replaced here by recitatives with music, the work of Alan Curtis.

It is normal for an important opera house to offer an inaugural concert with a top cast, but this was not the case here. In my opinion, the vocal distribution was insufficient, and the musical direction did not shine either. There were two different casts, and the second one worked better than the one which we saw on the first night.

The production is by Paco Azorín, who is returning to the Teatro Real after his Tosca a couple of years ago. This new co-production – done with the Abu Dhabi Festival – follows the opera’s plot with neither originality nor problems. The action starts before the overture, and we watch how Medea kills her children. During the overture, we witness the betrothal of Medea and Jason and the delivery of the Golden Fleece, a symbol of power, to him. From there on, it moves on to modern times with appropriate costumes. Paco Azorín’s sets are simple. At the back of the stage, there is a sort of metal elevator that moves up and down, and in which some scenes are performed.

The conductor was the musical director of Teatro Real, Ivor Bolton, from whom I expected more. I have always seen him giving his best in eighteenth-century operas, but on this occasion he fell short on emotion, especially in the first act. Things improved in Act II, but tension was lacking the final act. I have had the opportunity to hear conductors such as Zubin Mehta and Daniel Barenboim lead this opera, and the difference is clear. The Orchestra and Chorus of Teatro Real gave fine performances.

Saioa Hernández (Médée) © J. del Real

Medea was played by soprano Maria Agresta, whose interpretation made me question her suitability for the part. Agresta does not have the dramatic soprano voice that the character demands and, although she lived the role with intensity, she fell short. I have much preferred hearing Sondra Radvanovsky, Sonya Yoncheva, Violeta Urmana and, even years earlier, Anna Caterina Antonacci. Agresta showed signs of vocal fatigue as the performance progressed, and in Act III her high notes were somewhat colorless on more than one occasion.

The second Medea was soprano Saioa Hernández, who was much better suited to the role than Maria Agresta. Her voice is much closer to that of a dramatic soprano with a wide center and a powerful high register. She is a good actress, but the quality of her voice is not extraordinary; if it were, we would be facing a great Medea.

Tenor Enea Scala as Jason was clearly insufficient. His voice is not of great interest, although the tessitura offered him no problems. The following day, Jason was sung by Francesco Demuro, who was clearly better than Enea Scala. Demuro is not an exceptional tenor, but he is convincing, and his voice meets the demands of the character.

Mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera was good in the part of Neris, both singing and acting, and stood out in her great aria in Act II. The next Neris, mezzo-soprano Silvia Tro Santafé, did well, especially in her big second-act scene and aria. Her voice is somewhat smaller than that of her colleague of the day before.

Bass Jongmin Park was an adequate Creon with a sonorous voice, although it lacks nobility. In the second cast, King Creon was bass-baritone Michael Mofidian, who replaced the initially announced Alexander Vinogradov. His voice has amplitude and greater nobility than that of Jongmin Park, and only his low notes are less sonorous.

Soprano Sara Blanch as Dirce offered her best in the important scene of Act I, with an attractive, well-suited voice. The second Dirce was Marina Monzó, a light soprano with a pleasant voice in the center but somewhat colorless in the upper range.

José M. Irurzun

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