Review: Medea, English National Opera

Excellent singing, fabulous set, great direction and terrific dancing: everything about this production  is perfect. As with Castor & Pollux, Christian Curnyn conducts the orchestra beautifully, although this time the orchestra pit is sadly not raised. The dancers (excellently choreographed by Lynne Page) enhance rather than distract, deserving the spontaneous applause following their first appearance.

Medea, Sarah Connolly 4 (c) Clive BardaSarah Connolly as Medea (photo by Clive Barda, courtesy ENO)

Sarah Connolly gives a powerful performance as Medea, her passionate love for Jason turning to passionate revenge when he falls for another.

Medea, Roderick Williams, Katherine Manley 2 with dancers (c) Clive BardaKathering Manley as Creusa dancing with Roderick Williams as Orontes
(photo by Clive Barda, courtesy ENO)

Director David McVicar places the action in the middle of WWII, using the countries’ uniforms to make clear who is working for whom. The allied Thessalonian Jason (British navy) and Corinthian king Creon (French army) need the support of Orontes of Argos – enter the American airmen in their leather flying jackets. Creon promises Orontes his daughter Creusa in return for his support. Orontes prepares a celebration, featuring Cupid and her chariot (a glitter covered USAF plane) pulled by her Slaves of Love (sailors and tarts) in a fabulous parody of a Hollywood musical. I hadn’t realised before how close the Hollywood musical is in structure to that of Baroque opera with love songs and set dance pieces punctuating the unfolding of the story.

Medea 3 (c) Clive BardaAoife O’Sullivan as Cupid with her Slaves of Love (photo by Clive Barda, courtesy ENO)

Meanwhile, Jason and Creusa have fallen in love and Creon promises them they can get married once the battle is won. Medea finds out and reveals her dark side as a sorceress:

Medea, Sarah Connolly (c) Clive Barda
Medea gets nasty (photo by Clive Barda, courtesy ENO)

Using her blood, she calls up the demons from Hades (even spookier than the ghostly nuns in Robert le Diable):

Medea (c) Clive BardaHere come the demons! (photo by Clive Barda, courtesy ENO)

Medea relentlessly releases her powers, slaughtering all, even her own children, apart from Jason. I know I promised short reviews but this really deserved more and I only wish I had space to applaud the terrific performances individually. I may well have already seen my favourite opera of 2013 (and may go and see it again). By the way, I couldn’t see the surtitles from my seat but it didn’t matter at all as the singing was so clear.

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