Monday, July 02, 2007


I bought this DVD of Marc-Antoine Charpentier's Médée from House of Opera because it listed Lorraine Hunt in the cast. When I started to play it, I noticed a couple of things. This isn't a television copy--it's a hidden camera in a nice seat, maybe the front of the boxes or a dark corner in the back of a box. In short illegal. Never mind. One of my favorites, the nude men Alcina, is one of these. This also means there are no subtitles in any language.

I noticed that I was not able to figure out what was going on and tried to find a plot summary somewhere. And I found it in Eyewitness Companions: Opera which tells me this film is of an historic production in Caen, France, in 1993. There is a CD set you can buy from Amazon. Who knew? Besides Lorraine, other members of the cast include Mark Padmore (a very nice high tenor) as Jason, Monique Zanetti, Bernard Delétré, Jean-Marc Salzmann, Noémi Rime and Isabelle Desrochers.

This Charpentier is a contemporary of Lully who was allowed to produce operas only after Lully had died in 1685. Médée is 1693. Modern productions of operas from the middle Baroque are rare.

The production is in Louis XIV costumes, and they all unite to praise the King in the extensive prologue. This scene is staged as a religious ceremony--the first communion of the children, perhaps.

Seventeenth century opera is primarily an entertainment. In France this environment was dominated by Louis XIV who was himself a dancer in his youth. There is a lot of dancing, and it doesn't particularly move the plot forward. There are crowds of dancers and secondary characters that can lead to confusion, as it did in Orfeo in London last year.

Into this mix comes Lorraine Hunt with the wonderful gravity she brings to any music. There can be no question who is most important here. She transforms this entertainment into drama in a performance that made her a star.

You can't help asking yourself: Jason knows Medea is a sorceress with a bad temper. So why is he messing with her? Masculine ego, probably.

Don't run right out and buy this unless you're into middle baroque, or Lorraine. It's awfully long, and the filming is rather bad. I think these operas were intended to end in a blaze of glory, rather like the finale to a Cher show, and modern productions just seem to peter out. It's disappointing.

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