Mayr: Medea In Corinto / Bolton

Album cover art for upc 807280803099
Label: ARTHAUS
Catalog: 108030
Format: BLU RAY

MICHAEL; VARGAS; MILES; SHRADER; BAYERISCHES STAATSORCHESTER; CHOR DER BAYERSICHEN STAATSOPER; BOLTON; NEUENFELS

Back in Fanfare 34:2 it was my misfortune to have the obligation of reviewing one of the most excruciatingly awful opera performances I have ever heard, a live recording of Mayr’s Medea in Corinto issued on the Oehms label. Here we have a production on Blu-ray that, while visually deplorable, at least delivers the goods musically. To deal with the down side first: the Eurotrash staging is grossly offensive and even obscene. A 30-minute extra on the making of the production presents the production concept of director Hans Neuenfels. In a nutshell, it is that Medea’s horrific crimes are trivial, an understandable and even excusable reaction, when set against a backdrop of political repression and violence. Never mind that no such thing is indicated in the libretto; Neuenfels provides a cornucopia of carnage out of his own feral imagination. Creonte is portrayed as a psychotic tyrant, outfitted as a hunchback with a Tiny Tim hairdo, clad in a lounge robe and stumping about with a cane; the other characters are garbed in an equally ridiculous fashion. The stage alternately swarms with soldiers or police dressed in modern totalitarian state uniforms, or thuggish gangsters in pinstripe suits armed with machine guns, all of whom kidnap and murder bystanders with abandon. Creonte’s opening welcome to Giasone is accompanied by a knife fight in which one combatant slays the other, only to be shot dead immediately thereafter, followed by three virgins being forced to don laurel wreaths and then having their throats cut. After being captured by Creonte, Egeo and his three retainers are tied to pillars, gagged, and tortured. A mime figure who portrays Cupid, dressed only in white pants with suspenders and adorned with tinfoil wings on his back, initially escorts Giasone about, but then suddenly tears apart a dove, seizes a dagger, and stabs himself in the genitals. Later an anti-Cupid mime figure garbed in yellow pants appears, seizes a woman, rapes her, and then shoots her in the head. Subsequently the Cupid figure returns, and both he and the anti-Cupid are stabbed to death. Most nonsensically of all, at one point a large canvas Hodegetria ikon of the Virgin Mary and Christ Child is brought out, only to be slashed with a knife by Medea. Fortunately the musical side is on a completely different plane. Three of the five principals—Nadja Michael as Medea, Elena Tsallagova as Creusa, and Ramón Vargas as Giasone—offer top-notch singing of their roles in every way. As Egeo, Alek Shrader is also a credit to the cast, though not on the same plane as either Lawrence Brownlee or Raúl Giménez in previous recordings. Alastair Miles as Creonte has seen better days vocally, including his earlier recording from 1994 of the role in an Opera Rara CD set, but he is still a canny interpreter. Ivor Bolton has the score well in hand stylistically; he brings out virtues that had previously escaped me in its admixture of elements from Mozart (particularly the use of clarinets in the instrumentation), Gluck, and early bel canto, and knits them seamlessly into a satisfying whole. The solo instrumentalists—violin, harp, and English horn—that accompany various arias (one of Mayr’s most imaginative and effective touches) perform their parts exquisitely. Unfortunately, standard theater cuts are observed; the performance itself lasts about 150 minutes, whereas the absolutely complete Opera Rara set times out at 197:40. The latter set, then, remains the first choice for this work. But if you want to buy this and treat it as an audio Blu-ray CD by ignoring the execrable visual portion, it offers a well-sung performance of a sorely and unjustly neglected influential masterwork in the history of opera. © 2012 Fanfare

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