Record Guide: Cherubini’s Medea

Luigi Cherubini’s Medea is renowned for its intense and powerful music and its portrayal of the title role as a complex and multi-dimensional character and the destructive consequences of her uncontrolled passion. The opera was premiered in French as Médée at the Théâtre Feydeau in Paris in 1797, and since then there have been seven versions of the work. In the 20th century, Carlo Zangarini’s version for the Italian premiere at Teatro alla Scala in 1909 was the most performed, especially after the opera was revived by Maria Callas in the early 1950s. In recent years, however, the opera has mainly been performed in the original French version.

German approach

In the live recording from the Vienna State Opera on RCA, Leonie Rysanek gives a rather dramatic, if sometimes too German, performance in the title role. Bruno Prevedi was certainly one of the finest tenors ever to sing the role of Giasone, and Lucia Pop sings a magnificent Glauce. Horst Stein is also in great form.

Vittorio Gui’s German recording from Berlin is relatively unknown. Although the cast sounds a little too Wagnerian for this opera, and there are moments reminiscent of the first act of Die Walküre, Inge Borkh’s electrifying Medea is unique, and Ludwig Suthaus makes an incredibly powerful Jasoneh. The recording may not be for everyone, but it is a must.

Gardelli’s studio recordings

Lamberto Gardelli’s first studio recording of the opera for Decca is definitely the one with the best audio quality. Gwyneth Jones is convincing in the title role, but not as interesting as other performers on the disc. Bruno Prevedi is great as always, but the star of the recording is Pilar Lorengar, perhaps the best Glauce on record.

In Gardelli’s second studio recording for Hungaroton, Sylvia Sass offers an intense Medea, although she is sometimes a little overstretched in the role. The star of the recording, however, is undoubtedly Veriano Luchetti, who gives an exceptionally heroic Giasone with a metallic tenor voice. All in all, this is an excellent recording and Gardelli never disappoints.

Unknown and Underrated

Leyla Gencer’s Medea is simply at the top of her game, offering a bright range of emotions and a fatalistic portrayal. The rest of the cast is good, if not on Gencer’s level – but for them at least, Carlo Franci’s 1968 Venice recording is well worth a listen.

The milestone

Maria Callas’ Medea is a milestone in the history of opera performance. It highlights not only the archetypal affects, but also the timeless psychological struggle of the character. There are several official recordings of Callas in the title role and all of them are definitely worth listening – for the best sound quality, the fantastic 1957 studio recording with Tullio Serafin.

 

But if you had to choose just ONE, it would have to be the furious recording of Callas’ very first Medea, alongside the highly underrated Carlos Guichandut as Giasone and none other than Fedora Barbieri as Neris, all under the baton of Vittorio Gui. A great recording full of passion and phenomenal singing, and of course an important one from a historical point of view, as this was the moment when this masterpiece became a fundamental part of the opera repertoire.

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