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Riveting classical tragedy

The Alice Busch Theater
07/08/2011 -  and July 10, 23, 28, 30, August 1, 6, 14*, 16, 2011
Luigi Cherubini: Medea
Alexandra Deshorties (Medea), Jason Collins/Jeffrey Gwaltney* (Giasone), Wendy Bryn Harmer/Jessica Stavros* (Glauce), David Pittsinger (Creon), Sarah Larsen (Neris), Meredith Lustig (First Handmaiden), Emily Lorini (Second Handmaiden), Kyle Albertson (A Captain of the Guard)
The Glimmerglass Chorus, Bonnie Koestner (Chorus Master), The Glimmerglass Orchestra, Daniele Rustioni (Conductor)
Michael Barker-Caven (Director), Joe Vanek (Set & Costume Designer), Robert Wierzel (Lighting)

A. Deshorties, J. Gwaltney (© Julieta Cervantes)

This intense production of Luigi Cherubini’s Medea - and specifically Alexandra Deshorties’ committed performance of the title role - is the sensation of the 2011 Glimmerglass Festival.

We have to wait a good half hour or so for the Medea’s entrance and once she arrives, Ms Deshorties commands the stage. The role seems well suited to her voice, at least in the kind acoustics of the 950-seat theater. I attended the eighth of the nine-performance run and there was no sign of vocal fatigue. She expressed the character’s many moods (anger, despair, indignation, yet more anger) and used her lithe figure in equally dramatic ways.

The festival lost its original Giasone (Jason Collins) early in the run. The cover, Jeffrey Gwaltney, a member of the Young American Artists Program, stepped in and did a terrific job. It doesn’t hurt that he has a big build and a profile that would have looked great on an ancient coin. His voice is more bronze than golden and still under development (he is a member of the Washington National Opera’s young artists’ program). He maintains the high classical dramatic deportment of the production while making it clear that Giasone still harbors strong feelings of love (even lust) for Medea, thus giving some explanation as to why he gives in to her desire to visit their children. (After all, he was with her when she chopped her own brother into pieces as they fled her angry father.)

The role of Glauce, Giasone’s ill-fated fiancé, is the seconda donna in this opera, although for the long opening scene must do prima donna duties, complete with coloratura. Young Artist Jessica Stavros had to replace the originally cast soprano. Unfortunately, the role just isn’t right for her voice which seems to be developing toward a more dramatic fach. The role ought to be a lighter contrast to that of Medea. I note that she is listed in the program as “study cover” for Medea, a role that some day might suit her just fine.

David Pittsinger was a stalwart Creon, and Young Artist Sarah Larsen made a terrific impression in her heartfelt performance as Neris, Medea’s nurse/confidant. Meredith Lustig and Emily Lorini did fine work as the two handmaidens.

Joe Vanek’s costumes and sets conjure up the pre-classical era and even treat us to a solar eclipse at the final moments just after the two offstage atrocities have occurred. Michael Barker-Caven’s direction maintained the necessary dramatic tension.

The Milan-born conductor Daniele Rustioni, who turns 28 this year and looks like a teenager, might well be added to the list of young conductors to watch. His urgent handling of the score was the other essential element contributing to a riveting operatic experience.

Productions like this of Cherubini’s masterpiece (whether in French or Italian) could help move this work out of the shadowy fringes of the repertory. Once again Glimmerglass has made a case for a relatively neglected work.

Michael Johnson



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