Still waiting. . .
Esteban Molina | San Francisco | 03/15/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"This is Cherubini's "Medea" as he wrote it, which is to say as "Medee", in French - and in the original Opera Comique version with spoken dialogue [which is to say, Broadway Musical but with much greater ambition than we're used to]. I must show my colours: I do not like the Opera Comique version, and I prefer the version with sung recitative. I also prefer the opera in Italian. So there you have it. I think the version with spoken dialogue could work, but it would take very gifted singers indeed to manage spoken dialogue in such a way that the intensity of the sung passages is not lost. I sincerely doubt that any singer could manage it, if only because the intensity of this story is such that any to-ing and fro-ing between styles would never be up to the challenge. That said, if one wants to have "Medee" as written, this is a fairly good performance. The singers are generally very good, as singers, and not at all bad as actors in the spoken dialogue. There are only three reasons to be disappointed [though it's a big "only"]. First, the conductor is something of a brute. His basic attitude seems to be that, if you want something to be exciting, you need to play fast. He obviously wished the opera to be exciting, did not trust that Cherubini supplied the necessary ingredient, and therefore played with unremitting excitement - ie, fast - with few momentary exceptions. Second, as I mentioned already, the tension of the wonderful vocal writing is lost in the change to spoken dialogue. It happens every time and, as I said, I'm not sure any singer could hope to surmount this problem. Third, and most importantly, the singers are not able to colour their voices to suit the situation and still win out over the vocal demands of the work. In other words, there is very little light and shade in this production. This ability to colour and infuse the text with meaning is especially important for Medea herself. The soprano here copes with the musical demands but has no reserves left to shape phrases meaningfully [assuming the conductor would let her]. Any particular passage one listens to will seem interesting and apt, yet the overall performance doesn't hold one's attention because there is no variety or subtlety. There is a generalized and over-all intensity that is made to suit all situations. So - do you want this performance? To hear the original concept, yes; unless you want to hold out longer for a better effort. My own feeling is that the original concept will never be the best version. In that case, the Sass performance in Italian translation with sung recitatives on Hungaroton may be best, if you want the full work. If you want the most exciting version, you'll have to go with at least four Callas performances [Florence, Milan, Dallas and studio] in pared-down editions which make a more concise dramatic statement. And then, they are Callas - sui generis. Finally, I'm glad to have this present version so that I can say I've heard the original in a decent production; but if you want compelling drama, go with Sass or Callas in Italian. And my ultimate preference is for Callas who will be the standard measure as long as we have recorded sound."