Cherubini’s 1797 opera is one of the most powerful pieces from the late-Classical repertoire, imbued with the violent spirit of the French revolutionary period. It was a direct influence on Beethoven, who admired the Paris-based Italian more than any of his other contemporaries.
Médée has been performed, if relatively infrequently, in various editions over the years. The work is couched in the form of opéra-comique, with dialogue interspersing the musical numbers. It remains best known in a version originated in Frankfurt in 1855 in which the text is translated into Italian and the original spoken dialogue set as recitative in a later style by the minor composer Franz Lachner.
This 2011 production from La Monnaie in Brussels is also interventionist. Though conductor Christophe Rousset is in charge of a vivid period-instrument performance, and one that removes Lachner’s additions and returns to spoken dialogue, that dialogue is new. It was created by director Krzysztof Warlikowski and dramaturg Christian Longchamp, and designed for an in-your-face contemporary staging. That the result is at times shocking is scarcely surprising – Medée’s vengeance on her unfaithful lover Jason climaxes in the murder of his bride-to-be and her own children by him – but it is also utterly gripping.
His cast is marvellous, too, led by Kurt Streit’s shame-faced Jason, Hendrickje van Kerckhove’s disturbed Dircé, Vincent le Texier’s desperate Créon and especially Nadja Michael’s extraordinary Médée. But it’s a shame that there’s nothing about the piece or the edition in the accompanying material.