A Battered Cast Falls Short of the Mark
By David Browning
I love Mozart and Donizetti for the clarity, order and passion in their music. In my own blog, I call myself a bel canto bear in a verismo world. I thought upon these things as the melodic and ordered strains of the Medea overture struck my soul in the way that Wagner strikes those of some of my friends. Medea was first performed in 1797, a few years after Mozart’s death, and one can easily hear that Luigi Cherubini was of the same generation as Mozart–although he lived long enough to see Wagner’s and Verdi’s works performed. The story is based on the play of Euripides. Jason has met and married Medea on his travels in search of the golden fleece, but upon return to Greece is given the hand of King Creon’s daughter, Glauce. They say Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Medea could well be the woman they had in mind when that truism was first uttered.
Although there were some high points, I am dismayed to report that Medea did not thrill me as expected. At the performance I saw, on July 30, two of the lead roles were sung by the Young Artist covers. Jason Collins, the Jason in this production, was forced to withdraw due to injury. Jeffrey Gwaltney, who had so wonderfully performed as Officer Christopher Snow in A Blizzard on Marblehead Neck, seemed less sure of himself in this case, and his singing, while very good, lacked some of the shine I’d heard before. I attribute that to what seems to have been much stronger direction inBlizzard, acoustical differences between the two sets, and very likely to less rehearsal. Jessica Stavros sang the role of Glauce, replacing Wendy Bryn Harmer, who had withdrawn due to illness. While it was quite apparent that Miss Stavros has a beautiful voice, I felt like she never really fully warmed up. Her singing lacked a warmth that I know must be there when she is fully warmed up and comfortable, and unfortunately Glauce really only sings in Act I. I am happy to report that she did portray Glauce’s torment and feelings of forboding over her impending nuptuals quite well. David Pittsinger sang King Creon, but I liked him better as Eugene O’Neill in Blizzard.
Alexandra Deshorties sang Medea. She’s got a big voice, but I think she was holding back with it for some reason in this performance. That’s unfortunate, because the role of Medea demands a voice and a personality bigger than hers. I also think she shared the issue Mr. Gwaltney had, the need for stronger direction. In an article published in the program, the director, Michael Barker-Caven, and designer, Joe Vaněk, throw around some lofty ideas about whether to make Medea more a sorceress or a real woman, whether she’s a scorned lover, a cornered outsider, this archetype or that. That’s all well and good, but they failed to give the poor woman something to do with her hands. They didn’t help her to better show the conflict between all of those archetypes. In the mad scene, in which Medea is truly torn between maternal love and lust for revenge, there were dozens of opportunities for strong contrast, for clear acting to reflect this conflict, that were either unheeded or given ineffectual attention. Many of Medea’s hand motions and body contortions, apparently to suggest the spellbinding trickery of a sorceress, seemed awkward. And I can understand descending into the pit on stage for her final brutal act of murder, but why have her robe open and show her body smeared with blood upon her return? (And I wouldn’t call her undergarments authentic to any period but our own.)
As Neris, Medea’s maidservant and caregiver to her children, Young Artist Sarah Larsen sang superbly and deserves extra credit for acting, considering the apparent weakness in direction. The two handmaidens and the Captain of the Guard, YAs Meredith Lustig, Emily Lorini, and Kyle Albertson, also were all sung beautifully. All are fine young singers I expect to hear more from.
To summarize my feelings in a nutshell, Medea requires a Callas and a Zefirelli and had neither.
Photo: Julieta Cervantes
David Browning is a singer and writer living in the greater New York City area. He is the publisher of the opera blog Taminophile: www.taminophile.com