Sunday, August 30, 2015


The children are transcending reality into surreality, a note on Stephen King at the end


This version of the opera sung in French is absolutely amazing and astounding. The libretto was adapted for this stage production and the recitatives have been reduced and replaced by some modern language unsung passages, dialogues most of the time. That probably shortens the opera but it gives to it a tremendous power in its condensed form. The arias and duets are kept of course with the music of course and they explode in quality and force due to the shortened and demusicalized recitatives.

Along with this modernization of the opera to present-day taste the stage production is of course in modern costumes and uses modern visual techniques to build a background referential décor to what is happening on the stage. Opening sections and other overtures are using vast video projections on a screen and such video moments are used now and then to widen the stage with elements that are either magnified or contextual. The most striking element here is the use of the two children, the two sons. First they are older than they should be because they play an active role in the opera: they even once speak. They are more young teenagers than children.

They open the opera during the overture with a screen projecting videos of Jason’s wedding with Medea. They are showing their boredom by more or less falling asleep on the stage. During the first act and the preparations of Jason’s new wedding with the local princess, Creon’s daughter Dircé, the two kids are writing graffiti on the back wall of the stage behind a glass separation. I will not reproduce what they wrote. It is in both English and French and it is gross accusations against Dircé.

All along they are present and active. In the last act they are preparing for their last night with their mother. They are in their underwear before putting on their pajamas. They are extremely active with their mother in a scene that is ambiguous in many ways: Medea is wavering ,between killing or not killing. She finally lets the children go only to run after them later with nthe fatal blade. It is also ambiguous sexually. We can wonder if Medea is not transferring her love for Jason specifically associated to his “sperm” onto the fruits of this “sperm” hence the children who are more than half nude and embracing Medea in the most intimate way. The first distance at this level is provided by the covering of this nudity with pajamas.

In this version Creon is reduced to very little singing in spite of a heavy presence on the stage and on the screen. Jason is quite present but is also densified since we only have his arias and not his long recitatives that explained many things that are today beyond any explanation since we know the details. He appears as a real fool as well as a lustful ambition-motivated social climber of some sort. He is trying to recapture his noble position in Greece by marrying a Greek princess, by rejecting his Colchian wife but at the same time trying to keep and recuperate his mixed blood children. He impersonates a very negative character and we are deprived of any sympathy for him, let alone empathy. He is repulsive.

On the other hand Medea is the very embodiment and impersonation of suffering due to an unjust brutality that is imposed onto her by the Greeks who are obviously xenophobic if not plain racist since Medea being from Colchis is from the Old European stock of Turkic language, culture and origin, whereas the Greeks are the new comers of Indo-European origin, culture and language. Though the libretto insists on Medea’s betrayed love for Jason as her main motivation, this production with the active role the children play emphasizes her motherly dimension which really makes the final decision a lot more difficult since she has to hurt her children in order to hurt her husband. Her vengeance becomes a vendetta and this is the alienation if not negation of her motherly side?

This production thus tremendously magnifies the deeper meaning of the tragedy the way we can see it with modern eyes. She then can leave the scene, though without any chariot and supernatural horses or dragons. She just steps to the foreground of the stage while the metal security screen comes down and she will exit through the small door on the right that opens onto the back stage for her.

But this music and this poetry (in the arias) is still what they always were and that is definitely the best part of this opera. French is not a tonal language but a syllabic language, meaning there are no stressed syllables, only a certain number of such syllables. The music plays on that dimension of the language by building many arias on half alexandrine lines, hence on units of six feet. But Cherubini then works on the possible variants of this six foot unit that has to ,be cut in two and it becomes most powerful when it is divided in blocks of three syllables. The music can easily emphasize this rhythm and it becomes some kind of hammering and pounding for highly dramatic scenes though it could also be very fluid for more romantic scenes, but there are very few romantic moments in this opera.

Take those instances at the end of the second act:

« Aux larmes – d’une mère
« O triste – souvenir ! »

Or again :

« Vainement – de mon cœur
« Je veux vous – effacer ! »

But Cherubini is able to vary this 3-3 rhythm with a 4-2 rhythm that sounds cold, distant, cruel like in Medea’s last pronunciamento, 4-2 / 3-3:

« Et sur les bords – du Styx
« mon ombre – va t’attendre ! »

And Cherubini can even do further and express Medea’s condescending hatred with a 2-2-2 rhythm like in:

« Par des – chemins – connus
« Pour moi – toujours – secrets. »

And the last cry from Jason is this time purely inhuman by using a 2-4 rhythm that could maybe be captured as 2-2-2:

« Mes fils – rends-moi mes fils ! »

The last note I will give here is the fact that the main singers are not French natives and the director and probably the conductor chose to have them sing with some accent making them sound unreal like foreigners in that land of hatred. This use of a slight accent now and then is of course remarkable because we feel as if we were in some other land, some other country, some supernatural empire of unethical power-hungry monsters. That gives to Medea a human dimension that is rarely captured the way it should be.



This is a small 41 line poem written by Stephen King when he was a college student, in other words a college poem for publication in the local college student daily or weekly. As such it is not worth much though on the cover only one name is printed.

Thanks god this average example of college creative writing is amplified tremendously by the graphic work of the artist whose name is not mentioned on the cover. Glenn Chadbourne he is called. These illustrations are in black and white and in ink. They are ghostly fuzzy and perfectly fascinating in their uncertain strokes and shapes. It all works on what is not clear, what is not identifiable, what is not visible.

The other theme is the misery of buildings, infrastructure and people who are living on the side, under the margin or the social rug, in the ditches along the road or crossing some waste land where they can each bugs and survive. That’s the world of Randall Flagg, the Dark Man who can turn into a crow and vanish in thin air when the fire comes too close.

That small book would be a good present for some young child or teenager who likes things from beyond the normal looks they have in everyday life. What is behind the curtain of reality? Spiders, mutants, misery with or without a diabolical nurse?


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