Coliseum, London

Classical review: Medea - Hello, sailor! The fleet's in and it's one hell of a show

3.00

 

All the nice girls love a sailor. But so do the mad girls and the bad girls. Exquisitely bored by the monotonous hum and click of sewing machines and knitting needles in a snowbound fishing village, Senta annihilates herself for love of the cursed hero of The Flying Dutchman. Enraged by rejection, and pressed on all sides by the complex politics of an uneasy military alliance, the sorceress Medea slaughters her children and poisons her rival to wring hot tears from the cold eyes of unfaithful Jason.

Hitherto unstaged in Britain, Charpentier's Médée is shorn of its triumphal prologue in David McVicar's production for ENO. There is glitz enough in what remains: a dazzling cabaret of sequinned hotpants, crotch-hugging bell-bottoms and boozy Allied Forces socials in a requisitioned palazzo in the Second World War, while Sarah Connolly's Medea does what operatic heroines do and becomes a monstrous icon of herself.

First to go is the immaculate hair, then the sharp tailoring, the court shoes, the inhibitions, the semblance of humanity. Directed from the harpsichord by Christian Curnyn, the orchestra swarms around Connolly's delirious, furious voice, an eerie cloud of muted strings and fluttering recorders, the gloaming to the arc light of trumpets and oboes that greets Creon (Brindley Sherratt), Jason (Jeffrey Francis), and the swaggering American airman Orontes (Roderick Williams).

Charpentier, whose career had been thwarted at every turn by Lully, threw everything he had into Corneille's tragédie lyrique, cheekily adding an Italian aria in Act II. McVicar does the same. Imagine In Which We Serve remade by Bob Fosse, a lindy-hopping extravaganza featuring a glittering full-sized Spitfire (choreography by Lynne Page). Throw in the brooding glamour of a Joan Crawford vehicle (lighting by Paule Constable), turn Katherine Manley's Creusa into the "fair Miss Frigidaire" of High Society (designs by Bunny Christie), then cut to Fatal Attraction. In the text and on the stage, Medea's infanticide is almost an afterthought. What are two dead human children when you can give birth to bloody Vengeance (Oliver Dunn) and Jealousy (John McMunn), and a wardful of zombie nurses and war-wounded? Want to see eight pudenda used as fists? Look no further.

Charpentier's music is tailored precisely to the rhythm and timbre of his mother tongue. Translating this bitch of an opera is a bitch of a job, though Christopher Cowell's Nahum Tate-ish libretto places us squarely in the late 17th century. Along with a text-responsive trio of gamba and theorbos, ENO has assembled a cast whose love of language informs every note – not just the incandescent Connolly and Williams (their Act III duet is the musical highlight), but young artists Aoife O'Sullivan, Sophie Junker and Rhian Lois. Scene changes pass in the blink of an eye, while small details register crisply – the brisk smoothing of telephonists' skirts when Jason, already yesterday's man, passes by. To those who love Médée, McVicar will seem to have tried too hard to entertain those who don't. All the same, what a show. What music. And what a monster.

In Belfast, another heroine achieved self-actualisation with a kitchen knife. Without a cliff to throw herself off, Giselle Allen's Senta calmly turned her back on the audience for Oliver Mears's Northern Ireland Opera production of The Flying Dutchman (Grand Opera House ****) and cut her throat, staggering ecstatically to her death.

Allen was the unguarded, unstinting heart of a thrifty but thrilling Wagner debut from a company that is barely two years old. Her passion for Bruno Caproni's Dutchman was made more explicable by the awkward affection of Paul McNamara's Erik than by Caproni's Michael Howardish vowels ("terry-bill woo-man").

In the pit, Nicholas Chalmers whipped the Ulster Orchestra into a storm. The vivacious women's chorus, purse-lipped froideur of Doreen Curran's Mary, bright machismo of Adrian Dwyer's Steersman, and distracted bluster of Stephen Richardson's Daland deserve to be seen for more than two performances. Now NI Opera has tackled its first Wagner, it is time for its first revival.

'Medea' (020-7845 9300) to 16 Mar

Critic's Choice

Bernarda Fink joins the Academy of Ancient Music in pieces by Vivaldi and others at London's Wigmore Hall (Mon) and Cambridge's West Road Concert Hall (Wed). Matthias Pintscher directs the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra and Johannes Moser in Lutoslawski's Cello Concerto and Beethoven's Seventh at Glasgow's City Halls(Thu).

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests