Subject: I have found a DVD that I think you would enjoy
Actors: Anna Caterina Antonacci, Giovanni Battista Parodi, Cinzia Forte, Sara Mingardo, Giuseppe Filianoti
Genres: Indie & Art House, Music Video & Concerts, Musicals & Performing Arts
TODD KAY | 07/31/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Although highly esteemed by Classical and Romantic composers such as Beethoven and Brahms (the latter's summing-up: "what we musicians recognize as the height of dramatic music"), Cherubini's setting of Euripides, first heard in 1797 in French, all but vanished over the course of the 19th century. Today it would be as obscure as the Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier's operatic treatment of the same material were it not for the title role's emergence in the 1950s as one of Maria Callas's signature roles. The finest of her Giasones, Jon Vickers, averred that Cherubini's vengeful sorceress, not Bellini's Norma or Verdi's Violetta, was Callas's greatest portrayal. In the post-Callas period, the work again became a rarity, although it did receive one commercial recording per decade in the 1960s and 1970s, both sets conducted by Lamberto Gardelli. Gwyneth Jones and Sylvia Sass, respectively, coped with the title role.
The opera's neglect, especially in the theater, is puzzling. The part of Medea is a difficult one to sing, yes, but equally or more demanding music is all over the core soprano repertoire. I believe MEDEA's obscurity can best be accounted for on two grounds. First, 19th-century operatic theaters and audiences alike were ill at ease with a work in which the central figure was a powerful and also malevolent woman. The darkest such characters in Verdi, e.g., NABUCCO'S Abigaille, were never more than co-principals, and the likes of Strauss's Salome did not begin to appear until the 20th. Bellini's Norma -- a Medea-like figure who has a warmer relationship with her romantic rival, and *considers* but ultimately does not commit a double child murder -- was and is easier to take. Second, the work may have been too musically advanced for its own good, with its prefigurations of Rossini and Bellini and beyond. Today, it does not seem strong in period charm for the late 18th century, yet is at a disadvantage in competing for attention with operas that, 30 to 50 years later, built on its achievements.
A new production (sung, of course, in Italian and with recitatives rather than spoken dialogue) by Hugo de Ana was unveiled on 5 October 2008 at the Teatro Regio di Torino. This DVD appears to preserve a single performance, rather than a composite edited together from several. The action has been updated to a period that I suppose from the clothing is either the 1910s or the 1920s (de Ana also designed the costumes -- "Gatsbywear," one might say, with Neris sporting the most eccentric getup). The opening scene of Glauce's idyll is set on a beach, and once that scene has concluded, a low-hanging screen lifts to reveal a ship, which will remain on stage for most of the opera (Medea sleeps on board). De Ana makes some dramatic points a trifle bluntly (Medea always wears black, Glauce virginal white), but he limns the drama with efficiency and intelligence. Creonte, Glauce and their subjects are treated with great refinement; they represent the "polite society" Giasone hopes to enter as he closes the book on his past. Into this world, Medea pursues him almost as an elemental force. In the banquet she disrupts with her first, veiled appearance, the director makes an interesting choice: everyone, including Giasone, remains seated for a long time, and this is key within the production, for a display of passivity is their method of dealing with Medea. In a sense, they just hope this violating element will wear itself out and go away. When, later in that scene, Medea desperately throws herself at Giasone, he does not roughly shove her away in the usual manner for an Italian tenor (think of Turiddu in CAVALLERIA RUSTICANA); he responds to the unwanted advance merely by keeping his arms at his sides and *not* catching her as she slides down his body to the floor -- a telling moment in de Ana's passive-versus-active mise-en-scène. In several scenes, Medea is conspicuously surrounded by steamer trunks, suitcases, and boxes full of things from, presumably, happier times (at one point, singing of the children, she makes an appeal to Giasone's sentiment by showing him a photo album): the lady literally comes with a lot of baggage. Throughout, the production impresses as a thoughtful and handsome piece of work on what I assume was a modest budget. In that sense, it is close to a model of its kind.
The stage is populated with good musicians who, as a bonus, make an attractive appearance. The beautiful Anna Caterina Antonacci is not as vocally well suited to Medea as to lower-lying parts she has previously essayed (Bizet's Carmen; Mozart's Donna Elvira; Verdi's Meg Page; Berlioz's Cassandre). Her singing is well controlled for the most part, but the top is less than one could desire, and a beat intrudes on held notes (to this last, one might reasonably counter that both Callas and Jones had oft-rebellious voices, but they also brought more power and reach to it). Antonacci's remains a commendable performance of a role that does not present us with a wide array of contemporary choices on DVD. Singing in her native language, the Italian really savors the words. Giuseppe Filianoti is a sweeter-sounding, more lyrical Giasone than the usual (again...to the degree that one can speak of "the usual" in an opera so rarely given). Of the rest, Sara Mingardo is the standout: a firm and confident yet warm-toned Neris. Giovanni Battista Parodi makes an agreeable fellow out of Creonte. To his daughter, Glauce, Cinzia Forte brings an acceptable comprimario tone and a good enough technique for her aria. The orchestra and chorus, under the direction of Evelino Pidò and Roberto Gabbiani respectively, thoroughly exceed expectations -- Pidò, in particular, gets outstanding work from his players, and deserved the night's most generous ovation.
Except for one instance of haphazard, arrhythmic editing (Medea goes into one of her cases for an item and we get a jumble of illogically sequenced cuts that could be a "what not to do" primer in some filmmaking class), this meets a high standard technically. The theater's stage is not especially large, and two cameras placed to the extreme right and left expose the limits of the painted backdrop but also give us a nicely atmospheric "smoky" effect of dust against lights. The English subtitles are generous enough in quantity but poor in quality, with awkward line breaks and many errors of punctuation and spelling ("godess" for "goddess," "heals" for "heels"), suggesting transcription by someone with limited fluency in the language. The narrative remains comprehensible, in any case. Judging from the length of time it took me to acquire this DVD, and also from its status at this writing as available only at a high price from a single Amazon Marketplace seller, there seems to be a distribution issue -- one hopes this corrects itself, for in most respects it is a release to be received gratefully."
ravennamoon | Naples, Italy | 07/09/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Anna Caterina Antonacci is a fabulous, generous singer and actress~!
This is one of her many powerful roles on dvd---we are lucky to have them.
She was excellent as "Carmen", mesmerizing in "Rodelinda" and
a wonderful, spurned "Donna Elvira" in "Don Giovanni"!
I am surprised at the other insulting review of her performance here.
I believe Callas would admire Antonacci's work!"
A decent Medea
William B. Birdsall | Tampa, FL | 08/09/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
"If you go to YouTube and watch the clips of Maria Callas singing Medea with stage photographs from her portrayal, you see what a staggering and towering Medea she was. What a shame there is no full length video of her as Medea (or as Norma for that matter). People who saw her Medea speak of it as legendary, and you see why in those YouTube clips. Even the audio cds that capture her Medea (a studio one and many pirates) help us understand why the role is linked to her and all other sopranos have to contend with her "ghost."
Anna Caterina Antonacci does a decent job attempting to sing "her" Medea, and she does okay. However, I can't help but wish that her lower register were stronger or her temperament were more fiery. She has some fire, just not a Callas-like fire. I suppose she is the best Medea around right now, because I can not think of one single soprano who would do any better. However, Medea is wilder than most operatic heroines, because she kills her own children. I think this is why viewers and listeners want a more savage Medea, although Antonacci is probably singing the role more in line with what 1797 audiences might have heard (just a guess). Antonacci does help us see a very sad woman, which is also part of the role.
Since this is the only dvd version of Medea I would recommend it, because I enjoyed seeing how the opera plays on the stage. I have never had a chance to see it live and only know it from audio recordings, so I was glad to see that a dvd was coming out.
Cinzia Forte, who I saw as a good Violetta, sang Glauce with a little too much vibrato for my taste. Giuseppe Filianoti seemed to be a lightweight Giasone, although maybe that is only because I am used to hearing more robust tenors in the role on audio cds. Sara Mingardo is a good Neris. I saw Mingardo in Santa Fe and thought she was superb. I wonder why she is not more known.
We don't buy a Medea recording for the supporting casting, however. So your decision whether to buy this rests on whether you want to see a "decent" Medea with a soprano who sings a more sad Medea than furious one. Since Medea videos and productions do not grow on trees, I personally enjoyed this."
3 is right!
Michael Schulman | Toronto, Canada | 07/25/2009
(3 out of 5 stars)
""dosemer" rated this DVD a 1; ravennamoon gave it a 5. That averages to 3, which I consider the right number! Antonacci definitely doesn't deserve "dosmer"'s disdain, though I also disagree with ravennamoon - Callas wouldn't have approved Antonacci's utter lack of demonic fury. Overall, the singing of the ensemble is quite adequate for a regional opera house; Antonacci, though a bit weak at the top, succeeds in portraying Medea's unhappiness, but shows nothing of her violent passions. The single set is dramatic & eye-catching, with the Argo in the background reminding us of the events that preceded the opera. The blocking of the singers is also effective, & I would have rated this production a 4 if not for the bewildering costuming of the singers in what looks like 19th century Italian village garb, turning King Creon, for instance, into a small-town mayor rather than a powerful king. Instead, the whole affair becomes a local, small-scale domestic soap-opera, vitiating the drama's mythical resonance."