“Médée” at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées

Parigi, Théâtre des Champs Elysées, Stagione Lirica 2012/2013
Tragédie en musique in un prologo e cinque atti su libretto di Thomas Corneille.
Musica di Marc-Antoine Charpentier.
La Victoire / Créuse
La Gloire / Médée MICHELE LOSIER
La Bellone / Nérine AURELIE LEGAY
Oronte/ Il portavoce del popolo/Un pastore STEPHANE DEGOUT
Cléone / Una pastorella ELODIE KIMMEL
Arcas / Un abitante di Argo BENOIT ARNOULD
Un’italiana / Un fantasma / La Vengeance  KATHERINE WATSON
I° Corinzio / Un demone SAMUEL BODEN*
II° Corinzio / La Jalouise MATTHIAS CHAPUIS*
Le Concert d’Astrée
Chœur d’Astrée (* solisti del  Chœur d’Astrée)
Direttore Emmanuelle Haïm
Regia Pierre Audi
Scene Jonathan Meese
Costumi Jorge Jara
Drammaturgia Willem Bruls
Luci Jean Kalman
Coreografia Kim Brandstrup
Parigi, 17 ottobre 2012

To open its 1913 / 2013 centenary season, the Théâtre des Champs Elysées offers three different Medea productions: 6 performances of Charpentier (1693) in October, 2 performances of Pascal Dusapin (1992) in November, and 3 performances of Cherubini (1797) in December.
Responsibility for the cohesion of this Medea fell to musical director Emmanuelle Haïm, to the energy of her ensemble Le Concert d’Astrée, and to the commitment of her choir, Le Chœur d’Astrée. Haïm owns this music completely. Her gestures were bold and choreographic. Recitatives were always driven forward and arias connected almost without a break. Rhythmic timpani and elegant bass continuo contributed to a most lively reading of the score. Musical tension rose in fact more surely than theatrical tension.
Stage director Pierre Audi seemed more intrigued with internal contradictions of his characters. None of the spectacular main events of the story were exploited for their shock value: the poisoned dress that Medea offers to Creusa, the fire that destroys Creon’s palace, the killing of the children, all were under-played in a minimalist way. More fascinated with personal dilemma and psychological conflict, Audi left us frustrated. Far from the days when Medea used her powers to help Jason acquire the Golden Fleece, the figure of the sorceress, grand-daughter of Helios, prepared for anything, even killing her own brother and cutting him into pieces to enable her escape with Jason, none of this was even hinted at it in the character Audi staged. Medea was simply a foreigner in Corinth, caught in a political intrigue. Not only is she to be abandoned by Jason who plans to remarry Creusa, she is also to be banished, and lose her children. Even when Jason shamelessly asks Medea to give Creusa her finest dress, no doubt her wedding dress, Audi missed the tragic connotation.
On the other hand, stage designer Jonathan Meese was disappointing. He gave little more than an assemblage of confusing images. The performance opened with front-stage visuals featuring the mouth, nose and eyes of Claudia Schiffer, and the mouth and eyes of Scarlett Johansson, tagged with the words: “L’amour, c’est moi”. It seemed novel, perhaps connected to Louis XIV’s “The State is I”, Charpentier’s opera does, after all, open with a Prologue praising Louis XIV. But Meese was unable to assure any subsequent development. Jonathan Meese may be clever (he is scheduled to do the stage design for Parsifal at Bayreuth in 2013) but at most times the stage was simply littered with distracting symbols that were far too much information to take in. Similarly, aimless choreography and fierce lighting from stage front made it hard to not lose the plot.
Michèle Losier (Medea) and Anders Dahlin (Jason) both lacked dimension. Neither could act out the plot any further than the level of a domestic row, though this was also due to their insufficient command of the French of Thomas Corneille’s libretto. Mezzo-soprano Michèle Losier (Medea) has a fine voice, but needed more expressive range for this mighty role going from the fragility of a woman in love to the desire for vengeance of a sorceress with malefic powers. Almost meek in the beginning, she looked like a dominatrix at the end in her red skai overcoat. But there was no progression in between these two extremes.
Tenor Anders Dahlin (Jason) has a pleasing timbre with a fluid, easy projection. But he seemed too limp for Jason whose enigmatic, power-driven character has a darker side that could have been worth exploring more.  On the other hand, fine baritone Stéphane Degout (Oronte), chosen lyric artist of the year at the last Victoires de la Musique, was in top form. With his excellent diction and rich, mellow timbre, he lent himself to this production with total commitment, unintentionally showing up, though in a secondary role, the failings of other members of the cast.  Soprano Sophie Karthäuser (Creusa) has a natural timbre and unforced diction. Her duo with Anders Dahlin (Les plus douces charmes) was the lyrical highlight, and definitely Charpentier at his most touching.  Baritone Laurent Naouri (Creon) was powerful, though a little forced, as the scheming monarch.  Katherine Watson gave an admirable performance in her three minor roles, as did Benoît Arnould in the roles of Arcas and a villager. Sopranos Aurélia Legay (Nerina, Bellone) and Elodie Kimmel (Cléone) and were also strong elements.