Médée

Marc-Antoine Charpentier

Lorraine Hunt, Les Arts Florissants (William Christie, cond.)

album cover

Crazy Lady Wants Revenge

The tragic story of Medea, the sorceress and murderess of myth known here as Médée, involves characters of royal standing doing lowdown things and treachery on an unfathomable scale—standard opera fare. Curiously, the music that baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643–1704) wrote for this deep five-act work sounds like it was intended not for the stage, but rather for some tightly structured church service. There are reverent cascading vocal chorales, and soaring melodies in the manner of Bach's St. Matthew Passion.

In a perverse way, the pious tones provide a moral "anchor" for the story of this ruthless woman—who, as immortalized in a play by Euripides, steals the golden fleece and scatters bodies as she and her lover Jason escape to Corinth. There, King Creon gives the couple shelter but soon schemes to have the warrior Jason marry his daughter. Angered and exiled, Médée (played marvelously by Lorraine Hunt) goes for revenge: She kills Creon and his daughter, then stabs her children to death to spite their father.

These brutal exploits are conveyed through music of striking beauty—highlights of this work include lavish instrumental passages written to accompany brisk onstage dances, recitatives that move the plot along in clever ways, and sparkling vocal themes that occasionally recur to delightful effect. Charpentier understood French opera's requirements for visual spectacle (at one point Médée takes flight on her pet dragon). But the more elaborate moments indicate he was also tuned to the lyricism that defines Italian opera. Médée, which was rediscovered in the 1980s, presents Charpentier as a crucial bridge between those distinct styles.

This performance showcases the early-music ensemble Les Arts Florissants, considered one of the best in the world at revitalizing old music. Even when the singers are venting rage, the precision of the playing makes it possible to focus on small details and odd pairings that give the work its richness (listen for the way an active bassoon part aligns with the harpsichord in Act 1). The recording is also notable because it presents Hunt in one of her first roles as a mezzo-soprano. Her dark, smoky hue turns out to be perfect for Médée, yet she never relies on mere tone: Shaping lengthy phrases into bursts of visceral emotion, she gives listeners an up-close view of Médée's twisted mind.

Genre: Opera
Released: 1995, Erato
Key Tracks: Act 1, Scene 4: "L'Allégresse en ces lieux"; Act 2, Scene 1: "Aufritt: 'Il est temps de parler'"
Catalog Choice: Te Deum, Esteban Cambre, Arcadia Ensemble
Next Stop: Claudio Monteverdi: Vespers
After That: Francesco Cavalli: La calisto, Concerto Vocale (René Jacobs, cond.).
Book Page: 158

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Comments:

#1 from nugraha, indonesia - 09/06/2009 1:10

William Christie is my favorite conductor.. thanks for posting


regards

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