Jean-Louis Martinoty’s new production of Lully’s third tragédie lyrique, a co-production with Lille, is a useful reminder that the series needs more exposure. Thirty or so years after the Baroque revival really took off, Lully has not fared as well as Rameau in the performance charts. But the recent success of Cadmus et Hermione at the Opéra-Comique is proof that the appetite is there.
Martinoty unfortunately illustrates the pitfalls for classical producers who try to be hip on the sidelines. The result is always an awkward hybrid. He starts off well by extending the allegorical homage to Louis XIV in the prologue to the entire work. Minerva’s temple becomes the chapel at Versailles, her priestesses are nuns tending to the wounded from a battle and Theseus is Louis. So far, so elegant. The giggles start when the nuns, and priests in birettas, are required to execute a sort of clerical conga. But this is nothing compared with Medea’s demons, who apply a coat of Baroque varnish to Michael Jackson’s choreography for “Thriller”. Tempting, perhaps, on François Raffinot’s jotter, naff in execution.
Sylvie de Segonzac rolls out the lavish grand siècle costumes and wigs and Hans Schavernoch’s panels provide a pleasing tourist guide to Versailles. But everything goes wrong when Medea’s true personality is revealed. Fragments of Bosch’s nightmarish freaks come hurtling towards us on a video projection. The technique outstays its welcome but its garish Technicolor also clashes horribly with Anne Sofie von Otter’s outstanding Medea, a model of patrician venom and rage. Her commanding stage presence needs no agitated background to chill the air.
Paul Agnew sings the relatively small title role with dark velveted elegance, Salomé Haller’s head priestess has impressive force – in Lille she will sing Medea – and Jaël Azzaretti’s Cleone is sweet and tuneful. Why Jean-Philippe Lafont’s growling Wagnerian bass-baritone is consorting with these chiselled voices is a casting mystery. He is a likeable Aegeus but miscast all the same.
Emmanuelle Haïm has drilled her Concert d’Astrée and its remarkable chorus to rhythmic perfection for a performance shaped by squeaky clean attacks and dazzling articulation. Call her the queen of the dotted quaver.
Tel + 33 1 49 52 50 50; also Opera de Lille, March 11-17, tel +33 8 20 48 90 00
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