Donizetti Opera Festival 2021 Review: Medea in Corinto
Carmela Remigio Gives an Outstanding Performance in Francesco Micheli’s Dramatic ReadingBy Mauricio Villa
Giovanni Simone Mayr was the maestro di Cappella de Santa Maria Maggiore in Bergamo, and a prolific opera composer during the first half of the 19th century. He composed “Medea in Corinto” for Naples in 1813 and premiered a second version in Bergamo in 1821 with Felice Romani rewriting the libretto—Romani being one of the primary librettists of the bel canto era who wrote for many pivotal composers of the time, including Rossini, Bellini. and Donizetti. The titular Medea became the signature role of 19th-century soprano opera star Giuditta Pasta, who was famous for premiering roles including Anna Bolena and Norma.” Medea in Corinto,” like many of Mayr’s compositions, has largely faded from the public consciousness, just as he himself has become known more as the music teacher of Gaetano Donizetti than as a composer. Despite this, opera was one of Mayr’s compositional talents as he broke the strict rules imposed by Rossini, the most influential composer of the period, and clearly had Germanic influences in his harmony, his use of contrapunto, and his instrumental richness. He also helped develop and expand the Italian bel canto style through his pertinent research into the expressiveness of the human voice.
A Strong Concept
The director of the Donizetti Opera Festival, Francesco Micheli, directed the 2021 production. He tears apart all the grandeur and heroism of the classic era myth, to instead present a human drama grounded in the 1970s. It is a family drama where the children of Medea and Giasone witness the terrible domestic violence that the father inflicts upon Medea. In the style of film director Pedro Almodovar, we see the classical mythological figures as suffering human beings, creating a direct connection between the figures on stage and a modern audience. The stage directing was so strong and believable that the story did not lose any of the power of the original tragedy. The sets consist of a kitchen, a living room, and two bedrooms placed on separate platforms which rise upwards, becoming the ceiling of another set piece: an LED-lit janitor’s chamber which crosses the stage from right to left. The sets provide a mirror image of a working-class neighborhood in Bergamo. It was a very clever idea to turn Medea’s magical poisoned vest into a kitchen tablecloth which is cut and sewn during Medea’s rage and her hunger for revenge. Micheli plays with the ideas of flashbacks and traveling in time. During the overture, he shows how Medea and Giasone’s children go back to their parental home, abandoned after their parent’s divorce. An old Giasone goes back to the house too, intent on committing suicide. These scenes take place in 2021, and then the rest of the opera takes place through the memories of Giasone, reflecting on events that took place in the 1970s. At the end of the opera, the action returns to the present, where the decrepit Giasone sits in the old-fashioned kitchen and in his loneliness is visited by the ghost of a young and beautiful Medea.
The Diva’s Show
As soon as Carmela Remigio sang her entrance recitative “Come!..sen riede” it became clear that she would be the absolute protagonist of the evening. She has a dark instrument with a marked vibrato and a brassy timbre. Her stage and vocal presence are so strong and hypnotic that she captivated throughout this difficult role, her performance building with intensity and dramatism until the final climax of the opera. She has a pure coloratura technique, and her scales were clean and precise. Her entrance aria “Sommi dèi…” was sung with melancholy and grief, becoming explosive on the final coda of the cabaletta which she crowned with a strong B natural. She carried all the dramatic weight of the performance. Her confrontation with Giasone in Act one, “Fermati… Oh! Dei!,” was hair raising for its crude violence and the powerful interpretation of both singers. The highlight of her performance was her long scene with the chorus, “Ogni piacer è spento,” for her strong dramatic interpretation of a desperate woman claiming her revenge. Her phrasing and strong middle register make you forget her brassy timbre, which sometimes turned strident in the high A naturals of this scene. Her last long scene with the chorus, “Ismene…o cara Ismene,” was full of devilish dramatic coloratura. Despite her polished technique, Remigio’s real strength lies in her astonishing ability for dramatism and expert portrayal of strong emotions.
The Argentinian tenor Juan Francisco Gatell played Giasone. He has a clean quality to his timbre but possesses a fair vibrato, making his sound distinctive and easily recognizable. Despite having a modest voice, his projection enables him to keep his voice clear above the orchestra and chorus. Giasone’s long cavatina with the chorus on “Di gloria all’invito” demands a strong middle voice and low register and secure ascensions to high notes. This Gatell amply provided and sang effortlessly and he moved comfortably through the dramatic coloratura of the cabaletta. He sang an exquisite legato interval going up to two high B flats at the beginning of his second act aria “Amor per te penai,” showing his easiness singing in a high tessitura. While Giasone is a long role with two arias and duets with Medea and several ensemble numbers, Gatell displayed mesmerizing stamina, keeping his voice fresh until the very end and meeting the demands of the physical staging.
Michele Angelini played the second tenor role of Egeo. He proved his agility with secure high Cs in his long solo entrance aria “Alfine io vi riveggo.” The modest orchestration of the opera did not become an issue for Angelini’s lack of projection and open-sounding high notes. His voice shined in this virtuosic role. His Act two aria “Avverse, inique stelle… I dolci content” displayed his long phrases and his secure high D flats, but his coloratura was put to the test in his duet with Medea, “Egeo! Prence…,” where the writing seemed lighter.
It would have been more accurate to cast two tenors with distinctly different timbres, as both Gatell and Angelini have a clean quality to their voices, marking little contrast between them.
Marta Torbidoni, Roberto Lorenzi, and Caterina di Tonno presented an impeccable bel canto style and strong acting in their short supporting roles of Creusa, Creonte, and Ismene respectively. Torbidoni sang her Act two aria “Sembra che il ciel secondi’ with sweetness and the subsequent duet with Giasone “Meco divide” with determination. The Coro Donizetti Opera sounded strong and beautiful from their places off-stage on the proscenium boxes, creating a double-surround sound system.
The Italian conductor Jonathan Brandani had the difficult task of making this forgotten score attractive to the modern audience. He conducted the Orchestra Donizetti Opera with determination, keeping lively rhythms and clarity on the different sections of the orchestra and providing a crystalline interpretation and coloring a composition that was closer to classical than romantic. It was especially noticeable in his interpretation of the long dramatic overture which opens the opera.
In all, this was a fantastic revitalization of this forgotten opera with a splendid cast of stylish and dramatic singers in a modern staging that transformed this classical tragedy into a modern drama, with a set that supported the gritty realism of the piece.