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Medea review at Wexford Opera House – ‘beset by problems’

Lisa Davidsen, Rioch Kinsella and Anthony Keller in Medea at Wexford opera House. Photo: Clive Barda Lisa Davidsen, Rioch Kinsella and Anthony Keller in Medea at Wexford opera House. Photo: Clive Barda
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The Wexford Festival made no secret of the fact that owing to the severe effects of hurricane Ophelia, the company lost the dress rehearsal of its opening production – Cherubini’s Medea – entirely, nor that resulting electrical problems impacted on the lighting of the show’s first night, undoubtedly undermining the impact of Fiona Shaw’s staging; any assessment would have to take these major factors into account.

That said, there were other elements that might not have worked even in the better circumstances one hopes will prevail at later performances.

Written for Paris in 1797, Cherubini’s opera was composed with spoken dialogue interspersing the musical sections of what many regard as a neglected masterpiece. Thirteen years after Cherubini’s death the German composer Franz Lachner turned the spoken dialogue into recitative. Decades later his all-sung version was translated into Italian – and in this form the work eventually reached its widest public as a vehicle for Maria Callas.

Instead of going back to the French original, however, Wexford’s Lachner-based Italian-language edition adds in bits of dialogue whose effect hampers the dramatic flow.

Herself a famous exponent of Medea, director Fiona Shaw might have been expected to provide a gripping realisation of Cherubini’s score, but it has eluded her: designer Annemarie Woods’ bathetic visual mixture of the 18th century and the contemporary domestic proves more hindrance than help, a low point being reached when one of the principals trips over a gigantic rock that is quite literally in the way.

Rising star dramatic soprano Lise Davidsen often blazes away thrillingly, but the intensity of the title-role is way beyond her and her Italian often indecipherable. The other principals – Ruth Iniesta’s Glauce, Raffaella Lupinacci’s Neris, Adam Lau’s Creon and especially Sergey Romanovsky’s bright-toned Jason – are creditable; but Stephen Barlow’s conducting also fatally lacks electricity.

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Wexford Festival’s opening production is beset by problems, meteorological as well as artistic