• Alexander's Playlist: Charpentier's Médée

    By Alexander Neef

    General Director Alexander Neef shares his favourite music recordings in this series of weekly recommendations.

    Charpentier's Médée
    William Christie
    Les Arts Florissants
    Erato, 1995

    The longer I work in opera, the more I appreciate the richness of the art form. Opera consists of not just one artistic element, it’s an evolving kaleidoscopic of collaboration.

    For me, the tradition of French Baroque music — with its textures and ornamentation — has always been difficult to access on an emotional level. Yet it has really opened itself up to me recently through a number of recordings, including this week’s recommendation: French composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s Médée as conducted by William Christie with Les Arts Florissants. (Les Arts Florissants was a Baroque-focused chamber orchestra Christie founded in 1979).

    Immersing myself in this work, what strikes me particularly about Médée is the perfect union of words and music. The two are so intimately entwined — the rhythm of the words informing the music and the music serving as a vessel for the text — that they become different aspects of the same dramatic expression. Later on in operatic history, we’d see a divergence, with text and music travelling along seemingly unrelated paths in the course of a score. Yet Médée exists in an environment of profound, and beautiful, organic fusion.

    The story of Medea is one of opera’s most exciting subjects, and Charpentier’s work is further elevated by having one of the greatest French playwrights, Thomas Corneille, provide the libretto for Médée.

    On this recording, the title role is performed by Lorraine Hunt Lieberson who is, in my opinion, one of the most important mezzos of the 20th century; her extraordinary devotion to the details and nuances of characterization make this Medea burst into full, three-dimensional life.

    It’s an exquisite performance of an exquisite piece.

    ––Alexander Neef

    Music credit: Charpentier's Médée; William Christie, conductor with Les Arts Florrissants; Erato, 1995

    Posted in Alexander Neef Playlist


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