Medea, Coliseum, London

5.00

 

David McVicar’s production of Charpentier’s Médée – or Medea, in Christopher Cowell‘s felicitously idiomatic translation – is the most brilliant show to have graced the Coliseum in years. It’s by turns bold and brash – how could it not be, given the tabloid luridness of its subject matter? – and it’s also irresistibly seductive, as befits one of French Baroque music’s most ravishing scores which, after three centuries, is getting its first professional British staging.

The heroine of legend - and of Euripides’ play – ends up murdering (or causing to commit suicide) almost everyone in sight, additionally despatching her young sons as a final revenge for her husband Jason’s unfaithfulness.

The context is war: McVicar’s solution to the period problem is to set his drama in the Second World War, with Creon’s Corinthian palace becoming a cross between Buck House and Versailles, and Bunny Christie’s sets make this work very plausibly. Brindley Sherratt’s Creon is kitted out as a major-general, Jeffrey Francis’s Jason is an admiral, Roderick Williams’s Orontes is a squadron-leader with a posse of fighter pilots, and Sarah Connolly’s Medea comes straight out of Picture Post.

While Wrens plot manoeuvres with model ships on a table in a Churchillian war room, lieutenants prance about like ballet boyz, because McVicar has clearly encouraged choreographer Lynne Page and lighting designer Paule Constable to have fun: this gets wild when the score demands ‘masques’ (cue a full-size Mosquito fighter in pink spangles), and turns darkly sinister when Medea summons infernal spirits to do her bidding.

But the strength of this production lies in the assured way the drama keeps faith with the music. Supported by an exceptionally strong cast of singer-actors, and by a top-notch period ensemble under Christian Curnyn’s direction, Connolly gives a performance which is at once commanding and heart-rending: the long recitative in which she is transformed from a scorned and self-harming wife into an avenging fury has blistering authenticity.

And if her singing – with its very high tessitura - is a delight, so is Catherine Manley’s bewitchingly pure-toned Creusa, Jeffrey Francis’s sweet tenor, Roderick Williams’s versatile baritone, Aoife O’Sullivan’s camp Cupid, and Brindley Sherratt’s thundering bass. Shortage of space doesn’t permit me to praise the other outstanding performances which stud the evening.

Let’s hope English National Opera continues its investigation of the French Baroque repertoire, because the seam is rich and rewarding. 

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power