PERFORMER: Lorraine Hunt, Mark Padmore, Bernard Deletré, Monique Zanetti, Jean-Marc SalzmannLes Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: 4509-96558-2 DDD
Charpentier’s Médée is one of the glories of the Baroque. Medea’s betrayal by Jason, her comprehensive revenge and the plight of those caught up in this epic tragedy prompted Charpentier to compose music of devastating power. Transcending the constraints of the Lullian tragédie lyrique, he produced characterisations of astonishing complexity and invested vast stretches of music with a dramatic pace and a harmonic richness rivalled among contemporaries only by Purcell. The electrifying exchanges of the third act, mingling pathos with extreme violence, alone put Charpentier on the same imaginative level as Rameau and Berlioz. The machinations of the fourth act and the dénouement in the fifth maintain the same captivating impetus.
This is William Christie’s second recording of Médée, and it far surpasses the earlier one on Harmonia Mundi. Unlike its predecessor, it is, but for a tuck in the first-act finale, complete. The level of understanding of all the performers is also vastly superior. Lorraine Hunt is simply breathtaking as Médée and she is partnered superbly by Mark Padmore’s Jason and Jean-Marc Salzmann’s sterling Oronte.
In short, this is the performance Charpentier’s magnificent opera deserves. My only worry is that its very excellence will deter others from attempting a recording of a work which can easily accommodate a breadth of interpretation. But what a fantastic piece! Jan Smaczny