Colin Ainsworth (Jason) and Anna Stéphany (Médée) in COT's 2011 production of Charpentier's Médée
It was a real pleasure to be reunited with this marvellous Marc-Antoine Charpentier opera at the Théâtre des Champs Elysées yesterday evening. It was one of the perhaps rather unexpected successes of recent seasons at COT. It was the first opportunity for Chicago audiences to see and hear a Chicago production of a French baroque piece, and really parallelled the ear and eye opening experience of Montevedi's Orfeo of eleven year before. The work of conductor Christian Curnyn and director James Darrah, and a wonderful ensemble including Anna Stéphany in the title rôle, gave huge impact to the piece which might have been seen as a rather rarefied new entry to the repertoire. Instead the music drama slapped the audience into engrossed attention for three hours. It was one of the COT efforts of which I was most proud.
The stars of the show last night were undoubtedly, to my mind, the conductor Emmanuelle Haïm and her remarkable orchestra Le Concert d'Astrée. The thrilling vitality that Emmanuelle brings to her work was never more exciting than here - her virtuoso band were up to every challenge, and again and again must have astonished those more accustomed to the more sedate baroque playing of the old school! Emmanuelle has an intimate knowledge and understanding of this piece having worked with William Christie on his famous performances with Lorraine Hunt in the title rôle a generation ago!
The cast here is Paris last night was well balanced and with some really excellent chorus work. The two "low" men, Laurent Naouri and Stéphane Degout (an excellent Papageno at Chicago Lyric last season) were the vocal standouts for me.
The next time I see this piece will be at the Coliseum in February, with Sarah Connoly in the title rôle, and Christian Curnyn in the pit, as he had been at COT. The new production will be by David McVicar - now THAT should be something!