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Terror in the Warehouse

Los Angeles
Long Beach (EXPO Building)
01/29/2011 -  and February 5*, 6, 2011
Luigi Cherubini: Médée
Suzan Hanson (Médée), Ryan MacPherson (Jason), Roberto Gomez (King Créon), Ani Maldjian (Dircé), Peabody Southwell (Néris), Ariel Pisturino (Woman 1), Diana Tash (Woman 2)
Long Beach Opera Orchestra, Andreas Mitisek (Conductor)
Andreas Mitisek (Concept, Stage Director and Set/Lighting Designer), Bob Christian (Sound Designer), Christine Cover Ferro (Costume Designer)

(© Keith Ian Polakoff)

Leave it to Long Beach Opera (LBO) to come up with yet another innovative approach to the double century-plus old tragédie lyrique of the nefarious mythological sorceress Médée. Several composers have musically interpreted this vindictive woman as early as 1649. It was, however, the contributions of Italian-born Luigi Cherubini that held significance in his time. Although born in Florence, Italy, his success ensued by moving to France at age 27.

Luigi Cherubini arrived in Paris in 1787, two years before the French Revolution during which time radical changes were underway politically and musically. Cherubini witnessed the battle for domination between two factions: Piccini’s traditionalist status quo and Gluck’s classical reformist movement. Cherubini, a decisive Gluck supporter, catered to the République française (during The Age of Classicism) and nurtured the pre-existing opéra-comique to a new level. Médée successfully premiered at the Théâtre Feydeau in 1797 despite its classical underpinnings, by incorporating a catastrophic climax and highly energized action, elements quite sympathetic to the new political movement. Cherubini is seen as a bridge to the pre-Romantic Age, evidenced by his admirers including Beethoven, Schumann, Brahms and Weber.

Various versions of Médée exist; however, LBO is the first company in The United States to stage the work based on its original 1797 iteration. Andreas Mitisek and Suzan Hanson adapted an English version (actual English translation handled by Hanson) that serves well. Mitisek delivers a powerful performance by paring down the three act opera into one act (10 scenes), in true opéra-comique form. Mitisek uses the old EXPO Furniture Warehouse as his venue, creating a theater-in-the-round format enveloping an expansive four foot high metal platform. This enables all viewers excellent vantage points. Médée is a psychological thriller that addresses poignancy in music, song and dialogue while an open stage helps the audience connect with instant intimacy. The adage “less is more” works well: we are first anchored by Cherubini’s surging music, performed by the intrepid aura of the LBO Orchestra, and then grabbed by the throat with strong vocal deliveries by all seven principals. This Médée will not let you go.

(© Keith Ian Polakoff)

Suzan Hanson’s Médée is a tour-de-force exerting discipline and focus, demonstrating the downward spiral. Her singing is blistering, her enunciation and acting are exceptional. Determined, relentless, ruthless and dynamic, Médée is ready-made for Hanson.

Having sung with LBO in Richard Strauss’ Die schweigsame Frau, returning Ryan MacPherson takes on the role as Médée’s spurning husband, Jason. The ruggedly dashing tenor can look good in anything, especially a white tuxedo. No matter the circumstances, his voice has steely grit and relentless passion, and he creates a wake of unblemished clarity and fortitude.

After successful performances in last year’s The Diary of Anne Frank and Nixon in China, local favorite Ani Maldjian here dresses seductively, complete with platform shoes, to invoke an alluring yet pathetic Dircé. Agonizing over her impending marriage to Jason, Ani Maldjian comfortably handles the difficult coloratura intricacies in the first scene (“For you alone I wait”) with searing and emotional distress.

LBO is fortunate to have the stalwart Roberto Gomez assume the role of King Créon. Alongside the bowling and effectual baritone register, his presence is commanding and baronial.

Intense and penetrating are two words that can describe Peabody Southwell’s Néris. In scene seven the mezzo-soprano shines in her aria, “Such injustice” providing unequivocal pathos. Likewise, Auriel Pisturino and Diana Tash heighten the dramatic tension as the two “henchmen” who impel Médée’s murderous intentions.

The costumes derived by designer Christine Cover Ferro take on both a traditional and modern look. While Médée, Néris and the Furies (two women) are outfitted in classical Greek form, Jason, Dircé and King Créon move the clock forward in current dress. Symbolically, perhaps, interpreted as, “out with the old, and in with the new.” Bob Christian’s sound is audible and easy on the ear.

Through thoughtful revisions in music and libretto, this Médée is solidly constructed and solidly performed. Concise and taut, Long Beach Opera looks beyond expected boundaries by delivering a production that would make Cherubini proud.

Christie Grimstad



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