By Alain Berland

It took more than ten years to see in Paris, « Médée, » the unique lyrical tragedy by Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1643-1704), in the bold and precise staging by David McVicar. Originally produced in London in 2013 and then revived in Geneva in 2019 with different orchestras and casts, « Médée, » is now on the stage of the Opéra Garnier.

In the singular and minimalist set designed by Bunny Christie, a very large bare bourgeois apartment with tall French doors that, according to the needs of the narrative, becomes a reception hall, a prison, or a royal office, the two heroes, Médée (Léa Desandre) and Jason (Renaud Van Mechelen), refugees in Corinth, the kingdom of Creon (Laurent Naouri) and his daughter Creusa (Ana Viera Leite), confront each other.

Throughout the five acts, Médée, abandoned by Jason for whom she has sacrificed everything to help him seize the golden fleece and with whom she has had two children, inexorably evolves from suspicion to revenge and then to murder. In the final act, she summons her most infernal spells to drive Creon mad, kill her rival, and deprive Jason of his sons by committing the ultimate crime, infanticide.

The central idea of David McVicar, although highly contested by many musicologists at the creation of the production, is to transpose the ancient myth into the Second World War. Here, in what resembles an Elysian seat of power where the characters are in American and British military uniforms, the violence of private affairs is played out. In close dialogue with all his collaborators for lighting, costumes, and set design, the director takes hold of the stage and puts it at the service of an embodied conception of the sung roles but also of an inventiveness sometimes unrestrained: a fighter plane glides across the stage and the ballets borrow from Madonna. 

The conductor, William Christie, often recalls that in the Grand Siècle, the art of being a good singer was simply the art of being a good actor with a beautiful voice, and consequently, baroque operas composed largely of recitatives can only be successful if the singers are also excellent actors. This is the challenge achieved by the cast of this production, which brings together excellent actor-singers with special mention to Léa Desandre.

The mezzo-soprano, enchanting in beauty, links singing, acting, and dancing, transitioning from the loving mother to the most Mephistophelian murderer. In a repertoire that is familiar to them, the orchestra and the choir Les Arts Florissants magnify everything thanks to the dynamic direction of William Christie, making this production an enchanting masterpiece to see and revisit.


« Médée” at Opéra Garnier, from April 10th, 2024 to May 11th, 2024.


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