Charpentier: Médée

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Charpentier
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Médée
PERFORMER: Jill Feldman, Jacques Bona, Agnès Mellon, Gilles Ragon, Philippe Cantor, Sophie Boulin; Les Arts Florissants/William Christie
CATALOGUE NO: HMX 2901139-41 ADD Reissue (1984)
For twenty years William Christie and Les Arts Florrisants have contributed immeasurably to our understanding of Baroque opera. Charpentier’s Médée, from 1984, is undoubtedly the pick of this anniversary triple reissue, which also includes Campra’s Idomenée and Rossi’s Orfeo. Although superseded by Christie’s 1994 recording, it remains a tribute to this ensemble’s understanding of text and their advocacy of an opera that stands as one of the most thrilling of the seventeenth century. Unequalled in the French repertoire until Rameau, Médée far surpasses the finest work of his great rival Lully.

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Returning to this recording, I was struck by the rhythmic infectiousness and élan of concerted scenes, especially the divertissement which concludes act 2. Jill Feldman’s Médée is focused and sweetly voiced. Indeed, everything, including Créuse’s demise, is very beautiful, but here lies the problem: in many scenes the score’s acute drama barely materialises. I miss the captivatingly theatrical interchanges between the characters in Christie’s later recording and Lorraine Hunt’s unashamedly feral reading of the title role. No-one could possibly be disappointed by this handsome performance, but, as Christie acknowledged when he re-recorded the work, Médée demands and deserves more dramatic involvement than an exquisite read-through can provide. Jan Smaczny