For several years now I have been hearing of the wildly creative doings coming from Opera Long Beach under the direction of Andreas Mitisek: operas in swimming pools, drag queens in Threepenny Opera, and now a re-imagined Medea by Luigi Cherubini.
The story of Medea comes down to us from Euripides and is considered one of the most classic of Greek tales, a mother who murders her children, along with Oedipus who sleeps with his mother, and the fateful story of the Orestia. Early this year I saw a production of the play by UCLA live with Annette Bening in the lead. When I heard that Long Beach was going to do the opera, I jumped at the chance to see it. Maria Callas was famous for performing Medea but that was in an Italian translation that had been heavily revised, replacing spoken dialogue with recitatives unauthorized by Cherubini.
The original opera was based on Euripides and a play by Corneille called Medee (1635). It premiered in Paris in 1797 as an opera comique, which is a term used in opera to designate operas written with musical interludes interspersed with spoken dialogue, regardless of whether the opera was a comedy or a tragedy.
Down the ages the original version, written in French, has been more or less abandoned. Along comes Mitisek to the rescue. To acknowledge its “lost” status, Mitisek has chosen to place the opera in an abandoned warehouse. The locale serves to emphasize Medea’s forlorn status. Mitesek, with the help of soprano Suzan Hanson, who sings Medea, has translated the opera into English, cut the opera down to 100 minutes with judicious cuts including the chorale music, and assembled a bold and talented cast to pull it off.
The results were quite effective and the cast was sublime. Hanson made a powerful, revengeful, but also understandable Medea. Rising tenor star Ryan MacPherson made a dashing Jason. Roberto Gomez was the stern Creon. Ani Maldjian nearly stole the show with her portrayal of the Paris Hilton-like Dirce (Medea’s rival) and displayed a thrilling coloratura that she utilized with almost orgasmic glee. Peabody Southwell displayed a gorgeous voice as the sympathetic servant and was matched by Ariel Pisturino and Diana Tash as what was left of the women’s chorus.
Maestro Mitisek divided his skills between directing and conducting and even found time to be the lighting designer. The results were mesmerizing and beautifully played and sung. I look forward to more productions from this imaginative company. Medea has two remaining performances, Feb. 5th and 6th at the old Expo Warehouse in Long Beach.