cross-post from the concerts thread:
Zurich Opera, 18 February 2017
Conductor: William Christie
Producer: Andreas Homoki
Stage design: Hartmut Meyer
Costumes: Mechthild Seipel
Light design: Franck Evin
Choreographische Beratung: Katrin Kolo
Chorus master: Jürg Hämmerli
Dramaturgy: Werner Hintze, Fabio Dietsche
Médée: Stéphanie D’Oustrac
Jason: Reinoud Van Mechelen
Créon: Nahuel Di Pierro
Créuse: Mélissa Petit
Oronte: Ivan Thirion
L’Amour, Captif de l’Amour, Premier Fantôme: Florie Valiquette
Nérine: Carmen Seibel
Arcas, Second Corinthien, La Jalousie: Spencer Lang
Un Argien, La Vengeance: Roberto Lorenzi
Une Italienne: Sandrine Droin
Premier Corinthien, Un Argien, Un Démon: Nicholas Scott
Cleone: Gemma Ni Bhriain
Deuxième Fantôme: Francisca Montiel
Harpsichord: Paolo Zanzu
Lute: Brian Feehan, Juan Sebastian Lima
Cello: Claudius Herrmann
Gamba: Martin Zeller
Violone: Dieter Lange
Orchestra La Scintilla
Chor der Oper Zürich
Members of Les Arts Florissants
Phenomenal in every respect, one of the best opera nights ever, and quite likely to be the highlight of this still young year. How amazing to witness a cast that is really at home in the language in question - not that I actually understood it word by word, but none of the minor to major diction and pronounciation and accent problems that we usually just have to accept when watching opera (and in that respect: what a huge difference to the Milan "Don Carlo"). I've become tolerant long ago about this, but what a huge different to have a fully idiomatic cast! William Christie strictly insists on this, as he mentioned during the matinee in presentation of this new production a few weeks back - the show last night was actually the final one again already - and I fully endorse this, now that I have been able to witness the wonderful results.
So many great things, it's really hard to find words.
Let's start with the play itself. What a wonderful opera, finding a perfect balance between words and music. There's no fat to it, it's just perfect. No vocal girlands, no show-offery, no nothing, just a perfect synchronisation between what is sung and how it is sung (and played). This is not a sequence of numbers with star arias and all that, but really a play. And Homoki's production and stage direction actually made it work in a way that even the Divertissements were quite perfectly integrated into the whole, sort of echo chambers of the main plot.
The choir, enlarged by an haute-contre section from Les Arts florissants, did a wonderful job (as I've come to expect by now - Zurich opera can be really proud of such a fine choir). So did La Scintilla, the HIP orchestra of Zurich opera. They were enlarged by several guests as well, mainly in the winds section, which had a lot of work to do and did just fine. Christie had a harpsichord to play and conduct from, but to his right there was another harpsichord, as well as a small organ. As I could not see much of the orchestra during the play (I could see the recorders and that was pretty cool, too), I don't know how much of the harpsichord continuo was played by Christie himself. The continuo section was really good anyway, bleding into a wonderful and varied sound, using different combinations of the instruments at hand (including the organ I mentioned).
The stage itself was set up very simple, using a second floor that could be lifted to disappear and was often lowered so it was merely a step up from the ground level. On top you would have different colours than downstairs, the lower area was also opened up to the back a few times, but mostly just to let people (or devils) appear and disappear - very effective, and very nice to look at, too. There was hardly any furniture or other stuff on the stage, which fit the unfolding tragedy perfectly well, I found.
And as the tragedy has been mentioned, it really sempt to be the tragedy of Stéphanie d'Oustrac. She was outstanding in the title role, both as a singer as well as an actress - she really became Medea. Yet at the same time it got pretty clear how much love Charpentier must have had for that character, so far beyond any moral categories mankind is used to - not to say a monster. The melodies Chapentier wrote for his Médée are truly beguiling, again and again. Van Mechelen did an outstanding job as well. Most beautiful where the - quite many - moments when they sang at a very low volume. Those pianissimo moments, a few soft harpsichord tones added ... what tension, what vibrancy! At some moments I felt as if I were watching a forbidden scene - the intimacy generated by those very quiet moments was amazing. Of course this again was made possible by the fact that d'Oustrac really filled that role perfectly well, vibrant and intense. The other roles, both larger and smaller, were all cast very well, too. What I found interesting, and it was certainly determined only in part by my own preferences, is how much this is about Medea, the monster, and how relatively little sympathy came up for Créuse (Mélissa Petit was excellent, not her fault at all!) by comparison. Créuse, at least as far as the play seems to tell us, is not the one to blame really for the events that are to unfold - yet it's Medea, the independent and strong character that captures the attention, that is front and center, albeit her doings are horrible beyond belief. This of course creates tension as well, which again is held back or counterbalanced ingeniously by Charpentier's music.
So yeah, great night at the opera!