Yesterday I took a long drive to the scenic middle of nowhere that is home to the Glimmerglass Festival to see Cherubini’s Medea. This being the US, it was the Italian version. This is basically a diva vehicle, and on that front it was a reasonable success thanks to Alexandra Deshorties as
Maria Callas Medea, and the conducting by Daniele Rustioni was surprisingly excellent. Unfortunately this isn’t quite my style of opera, and wasn’t enough to balance out a poor supporting cast and a blah production.
Cherubini Medea (Italian version by Carlo Zangarini). Glimmerglass Festival, 8/16/2011. Production by Michael Barker-Caven, conducted by Daniele Rustioni with Alexandra Deshorties (Medea), Jeffrey Gwaltney (Jason), David Pittsinger (Creon), Jessica Stavros (Glauce), Sarah Larsen (Neris).
This was the last performance of Medea of the festival. Two of the originally leading roles (Glauce and Jason) were sung by covers, which made me a little mad. Based on the lack of “[original singer] is ill” in the announcement), I darkly suspected that this was planned well in advance, because this was the last performance and the covers were being given a chance to go on. Something mysterious might have happened tenor-wise, considering original cast Jason Collins has disappeared from the company website (though not the printed program). But there was no mention on the website of the absence of Wendy Bryn Harmer, whom, after admiring her singing in many small roles at the Met, I was really looking forward to seeing in a larger part. Either this was in fact a “cover show” that should have been marked as such (I would have bought a ticket for a different performance), or people were sick (and/or fired, quit, something) and the replacements were not clearly announced.
Sorry to waste so many words on that, but I was disappointed and thought it was handled somewhat dishonestly.
|The Golden Fleece is hovering|
Fortunately soprano Alexandra Deshorties remained as the titular child-killer. Her voice has been around the block, and sounds uneven and acidulous (and not that big), but it’s got a lot of character and she wields it with conviction. (Her career has had a lot of ups and downs as well.) It wasn’t pristine singing by a long shot but she’s got temperament, which in this role might be more important. The Personenregie consisted primarily of arm gestures (more on that in a minute), among the cast she alone managed to make a character from this by deploying them in a way that was not semaphoric but rather crazed and random, and she was charismatically deranged the whole way through. There wasn’t a whole lot of dramatic shape or progression, but that was a problem of everyone in this production.
The musical highlight of the performance was Daniele Rustioni’s conducting, which had excellent pacing and drama and heat in a way that is too rare in this kind of repertoire. His is definitely a name to watch, and he already has an impressive CV. The orchestra wasn’t that great, but they followed him well, and the coordination was excellent. Unfortunately the small chorus was unbalanced and unblended, a few voices dominating (it seems to consist mostly of members of the Young Artists Program, who probably have soloistic rather than choral ambitions).
|Gwaltney, Pittsinger, and Stavros|
It is too bad that none of the other members of the cast reached Rustioni’s or Deshorties’s level. David Pittsinger was sonorous but unimposing as Creon, and Sarah Larsen sounded slightly covered as Néris but gave a beautifully musical account of her aria, one of the highlights of the score. That leaves the two covers, both of whom are in “Young Artist” programs and sound like works in progress, possibly rather uncertain with their parts. Jessica Stavros has a large and powerful voice, but as Glauce (the character you might know as Creusa) her tone was often harsh and shrill, and her singing lacked phrasing and rhythmic pulse. Jeffrey Gwaltney sounds like he has a fine medium-sized Italiante tenor somewhere, but it came out cloudily and he seemed unsure onstage, with no connection to Medea to speak of.
The production, by Michael Barker-Caven (with sets and costumes by Joe Vanek and lighting by Robert Wierzel), struck me as rather similar to Stephen Wadsworth’s Met Iphigénie en Tauride: a dark color palette, armor, robes. It’s a unit interior set of looming walls but relatively little atmosphere, and the generic visuals plus static, stiff direction never established a sense of atmosphere. The only mode of expression seemed to be formulaic, vaguely vase-like hand gestures. Except Deshorties (given unfortunate henna tattoos and a succession of bedraggled outfits moving from Goth hippie to Corpse Bride to intergalactic wench to an unfortunate bloody little black number), none of the singers managed to do much to create living characters. The plot doesn’t move quickly, but the direction only exacerbated the problems. Some hovering sidekicks for Medea didn’t do that much, and in general the production lacked an interesting point of view on the piece.
This performance unfortunately never really grabbed me, which may have been partly because I kept thinking of Aribert Reimann’s fantastic Medea setting, which I saw last December. Reimann’s spiky atonality is more my style (Cherubini sounds a little dinky to me, to be honest, I’ve been listening to too much Wagner), the Grillparzer-based libretto has a lot more action, and the production was much better. Your tastes, of course, may vary.
For another view, I highly recommend you read Opera Obsession’s take, with a much more detailed look at the drama than my more musical take. Disclaimer: We went together, and had a really great time. We did not consult on our reviews, but if we had it would have looked something like this.
Photos copyright Julieta Cervantes/Glimmerglass Festival.