An angry woman with a voice for the ages: First review of Medea

An angry woman with a voice for the ages: First review of Medea


norman lebrecht

September 28, 2022

The New York Times has yet to wake up, but a critic called Zachary is first to share his view of last’s night’s Met opening in Theatermania:

Sometimes, you just want to see your enemies weep. In that way, we can all relate to Medea, the mythical sorceress of Colchis and the protagonist (villain?) of Luigi Cherubini’s Medea, which has just opened the Metropolitan Opera’s 2022-23 season in exquisite style. Of course, few of us will go as far as Medea in exacting revenge. Curses to the heavens, poisoned accessories, an extremely late-term abortion — nothing is off the table for her. And that’s what makes this opera so horrifying and watchable.

The music helps too: Cherubini’s score is a bridge between the formality of the Classical period and the unbridled passion of the Romantic. We know we’re in for a dark and stormy night …

Full review here.

Two hours (and several online reviews) later, Zachary Woolfe published his verdict in the NY Times:

The first entrance of the title character in Luigi Cherubini’s opera “Medea” is prolonged until we almost can’t take it anymore.

A snarling overture, a chorus of serving-women, a lively aria, a march, another chorus, another aria, a trio: Forty long minutes pass during which the audience knows that Medea is coming — and waits for her, and waits some more.

But when she finally shows up — the ultimate wedding crasher, arrived to take revenge on the man who betrayed her — there is little else in the rest of the opera except her. In few other works in the canon are all of the characters but one so negligible. “Norma” and “Elektra” have riches beyond their dominating protagonists; “Medea” is almost entirely Medea….

Read on here.

photo: Sondra Radvanovsky as Medea, with Matthew Polenzani as Giasone in Luigi Cherubini’s Medea (© Marty Sohl/The Metropolitan Opera


  • william osborne says:

    Perhaps the measure of a dying art form that we have to reach back to the 18th century and a stylistically nebulous, second level composer to address those themes. I think people from earlier centuries would look at us and wonder why we have no voice of our own.

    • Guest says:

      Strange comment altogether. Some might dissent from your ranking of Cherubini — Beethoven, for one!

      • William Osborne says:

        What’s interesting in this is how even Beethoven could not foresee the future and how Cherubini would fade against the composers that were to come. The second thing that is interesting, is how the large majority of opera fans listen to the genre so superficially, critically evaluating little more than the singing. The compositional, dramaturgical, and larger aesthetic and historical aspects of opera go right past them. They just want to worship their stars, and of course, on occasion sadistically castigate them. This one-dimensional approach to the genre is another reason opera is becoming a dead art form.

        • Guest says:

          Briefly. First, even if Cherubini ‘faded’ historically, that does not necessarily make him a ‘second-level composer’; Beethoven was not alone among nineteenth-century musicians in rating him highly and in fact he has never been forgotten. Second, if mindless fanatical adulation of divas (and divos) sounds the death-knell for opera, it would have died long before the end of the eighteenth century!

        • Oberon says:

          I believe that, for most frequent opera-goers, opera is an emotional rather than an intellectual experience. From the era of the castrati to the present day, it is the great singers that have drawn people to the opera, not some “larger aesthetic”. The reason opera is fading nowadays is a lack of truly riveting voices (think back to the age of Callas, Tebaldi, Nilsson, Sutherland, Corelli, Bergonzi, Gedda etc etc…are there comparable singers today, in terms of both voice and charisma?), and the dreariness of so many productions wherein the director shows us how clever he/she is. No wonder so many of the devoted opera lovers of my generation have stopped going.

  • lamed says:

    “extremely late-term abortion … bros-before-hos vibe … first wives club”

    What’s the point of linking to these crass, thin and never-to-be-cited reviews in the silly aim of claiming the “first review of”?

    This is sophomoric schlock.

  • MisterNewYork says:

    I was at the opening of Medea last night at the Met. Sondra Radvanovsky gave one of the greatest performances I’ve seen by a soprano in over 50 years of going to the Met. She is a great musician who spins beautiful pianissimi with on pitch high notes in the league of a Nilsson. The audience went wild with a curtain call ovation the Met has not seen since the days of Caballe. Mr. NY Times Zachary spends much too much time in hipster Brooklyn Opera company attempts, and I think he has forgotten what magnificent singing is all about. People should run to see this tour de force performance. The Met rarely has any these days.

  • Luigi says:

    Wikipedia goons have it listed as an “opéra-comique”!

    … but even they get its language right (!!!), as Barenboim did in Berlin four years ago (giving Gelb the idea).

    • Diane Valerie says:

      Doesn’t “opéra-comique” mean that the opera contains spoken dialogue in between the arias? Just askin’ …

      • Luigi says:

        It was published as an “opéra” in 1797 and is of course a tragedy. The convention you refer to arose decades later to reflect practice at the theater of that name, cf. at the Académie.

    • zeno north says:

      Yes…perhaps you should learn the meaning of the term “opera-comique” before making a post like this.

  • Guest says:

    Is there any reliable information about the version of Medea being performed at the Met? I assume it is Carlo Zangarini’s Italian translation of Lachner’s 1855 German translation, which substituted recitatives for spoken dialogue. But what was Lachner translating – the original French, or an earlier version in Italian? Almost all google search results say that performances given in Vienna in 1802 and later were in Italian, but the Wikipedia article on Cherubini’s Medee says the 1802 version was in German, by Georg Friedrich Treitschke, and indeed the Library of Congress has that Singspiel libretto, dated 1803. Its title-page says: Medea. Ein tragische Oper, in drei Aufzügen, frei nach dem französischen, von G.F. Treitschke. The name of the composer only appears in tiny letters below the dramatis personae, “Die Musik von Cherubini”, and the French librettists are not credited at all!,-0.017,1.42,0.899,0
    Is there a musicologist out there who can untangle any of this?