Reimann: Medea

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Reimann
LABELS: Arthaus Musik
WORKS: Medea
PERFORMER: Marlis Petersen, Michaela Selinger, Elisabeth Kulman, Michael Roider, Adrian Eröd, Max Emmanuel Cencic; Vienna State Opera Orchestra/Michael Boder; dir. Marco Arturo Marelli (Vienna, 2010)
CATALOGUE NO: 101 551 (NTSC system; dd 5.1; 16:9 picture format)

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The story of Medea has inspired artists for centuries. The psychological tension in this tale of love, betrayal, rejection and murder, including infanticide, has made it ideal for operatic treatment, whether following Euripides or, as here, Grillparzer. Aribert Reimann’s expressionist ‘opera in four pictures’ was commissioned by the Vienna State Opera, and this premiere production from 2010 is likely to be the first of many. This is a taut, gripping work, sympathetic of Medea’s suffering and isolation as she loses gradually all she loves, including her children, and takes revenge.

If this all seems rather bleak, there are pools of beauty and lyricism within the tension and turbulence of Reimann’s inventive score. The playful scene between Medea and Kreusa at the start of the second picture is an enchanting study of an outsider’s futile attempt to fit in, and throughout there is a lyricism to the searching vocal writing. Among the strong cast, Marlis Petersen is outstanding in the demanding title role, more than ably supported by Adrian Eröd’s uneasy Jason, and Michaela Selinger’s naive Kreusa. Max Emanuel Cencic is visually as well as vocally striking as the Herold.

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As so often, the caveats come as the staging. Marco Arturo Marelli’s bleak set may reflect the overall nature of the story, Corinth being symbolically unreachable, but there is little sense of what is lost when Medea sets it burning. This renders the climax of the opera visually underwhelming. Nonetheless, this is an invaluable document of a strong work. Christopher Dingle