Thursday, May 12, 2016


On Tuesday last I had the good fortune to attend the dressed rehearsal of Medea at the Operá in Nice.  The dressed rehearsal, according to my friend, the first chair cello in the National Orchestra of Nice, is always the "opening night" for the musicians and players.  They know that they have their friends in the audience and are playing to a packed house. 

 The dressed rehearsal is not stopped unless there is a glaring emergency.     Regardless that this has not happened for over twenty years,  we were warned that the singers may not sing in full voice and that the opera might be stopped at any point. 

Tuesday night nothing stopped the process for us....( unless you count the coke bottle that rolled off the stage nearly "beaning" the violas).   As the Greek gods must have been attending, the coke bottle luckily landed between two musicians.   Also, the champagne cork for the party scene hit my friend (the cellist) in the head but she kept on playing.  (Yes, real champagne....this is France after all.)   And as far as I could tell, the singers were using " full voice". 

This production of Medea is quite a stretch from the original play by Euripides.  This opera, Medea, was written by Luigi Cherubini and first produced in Paris in 1797.   It is sung in Italian and here it is subtitled in French. 

The fascination begins in the first scene as Creon's palace is unexpectedly a modern office building of which he is the CEO.  The chorus are the office workers at their computer stations.   The two kids of Jasen and Medea do nothing but play with the computer and their cell phones.  Typique. 

 And refreshingly different for those of us who don't see much opera, was that all the leads were both young and attractive.  The singers for Medea and Glauce are both beautiful women with excellent physiques and exceptional voices.  Gone are the days of the portly middle-aged diva being cast as the ingenue. 

 I may become an opera fan after all.

Watching the subtitles is fascinating when you are familiar with the original story but are not a native French speaker.  The name Hymen kept coming up in the subtitles above our heads.  I have just found out that it is a reference to the "god of marriage", who was an essential part of an ancient Greek wedding ceremony.  The word, hymen, as its is used today undoubtedly has common roots with the god...if you stretch your imagination. 

  The program notes we reviewed Tuesday night gave us only the original story set in Corinth and we had to interpret the modern setting as best we could.  Actually it was not difficult and made the play both slightly comical and more interesting than the original might have been. 

 Luckily, as in the original opera,  I was glad to see that Medea dispatches her children off-stage.  That would have been tough to take, as the two boys that play the kids in this piece are completely unselfconscious and perfect for the parts.    

There is some mystery of how the wedding dress is poisoned.  In this version, instead of dying in flames from putting on the dress, Glauce is killed with a pistol.   In fact there are many surprises in store for you that I will not reveal .... but I am sure that they will keep you riveted. 

But regardless if the dress does not ignite, we have  flames aplenty.  In fact by the finalé the whole stage is alight.  This choice is quite remarkable as the Nice Opera House is known to have already burned down once.  In 1881 during a performance of Lucia of Lamamoor, a gas leak occurred and the Operá burned to the ground.   

 But Tuesday night our adored Pompiers were on hand.   I know this because after the performance we were escorted by our hostess through the bowels of the Operá where I saw two handsome fellows wearing the well known navy blue uniform with it's thin red band across the chest....the fire department of Nice.  On their  polo shirts "sécurité de incendie" was written for all to see. 

If you have a chance, I would recommend this quirky rendition of Medea.   Nicola Beller Carbone interprets Medea in enchanting and powerful voice.  Guy Montavon, the stage director, has taken some daring risks that have paid off.   Further, George Petron is the talented musical director of this piece and Anne-Marie Woods captures the modern sensibility of the costumes with bravado and a touch of humor. 

 Finally, Berthold Warnecke, the dramaturge, has given us a fresh look at an old story.   If you are not too much of a classicist (or an opera snob with your rotten tomatoes in hand) I would say you will be intrigued.  Opening night is tomorrow, Friday the 13th.  hmmm.