Opéra-comique in three acts. Libretto by François-Benoît Hoffmann, based upon the tragedies by Euripides and Pierre Corneille. Music by Luigi Cherubini. Premiere: Paris, Théâtre Feydeau, 13th March 1797.
Version translated into Italian by Carlo Zangarini, from the German version with recitatives composed by Franz Lachner in 1855. Premiere: Milano, Teatro alla Scala, 30th December 1909.
María José Montiel
Head of the Guard
*Centre de Perfeccionament Plácido Domingo
Orquestra de la Comunitat Valenciana
Cor de la Generalitat Valenciana
Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía
12th, 17th, 21st, 24th June 2012
As legitimate heir, Jason claims the throne of Iolcus from his uncle, King Pelias. Pelias leads him to believe he is willing to give up the throne if Jason successfully recovers the Golden Fleece which is guarded by king Aeetes in Colchis. The Golden Fleece is of the flying ram Chrysomallus, which was sacrificed by Phrixus in honour of Zeus (an ancestor of Pelias) and bestows glory and triumph on whoever possesses it. Jason sets sail with the bravest men in the ship, the Argo. When he reaches Colchis, Medea (daughter of king Aeetes and granddaughter of the sun god Helios) falls madly in love with Jason and uses her knowledge of sorcery to help him in his quest for the Golden Fleece. Aware of the fact that her father will not forgive her for betraying him in that way, Medea flees the kingdom with Jason and the Argonauts, and they set sail for Iolcus.
By the king's command, they are chased and caught by his son Absyrtus. Medea, who feels no compassion for one of her own blood, plots to kill Absyrtus. His body is cut into pieces and thrown into the sea. When they finally reach Iolcus, King Pelias refuses to give up his throne to Jason and Medea, even though they have bought him the coveted treasure from Colchis. The next step is for Medea to plot the death of King Pelias. The townsfolk are so furious about the crime that Jason and Medea are told to leave. They make their home in Corinth.
Jason has two children from his marriage to Medea. Unconditionally unfaithful to him, Medea contributes unscrupulously to her husband's progress, resorting to cunning sorcery and cruel crimes whenever necessary. Jason becomes tired of his cruel and bloodthirsty wife and he disowns her, setting his sights on Glauce, the daughter of Creon, king of Corinth.
Corinth. King Creon's palace. Glauce is preparing for her wedding to Jason. Her maids tell her to brush aside any fears she may have of a possible plot of revenge from Medea and embrace the good omens of the marriage. Enter Creon and Jason, who offers the king the Golden Fleece. The king, in turn, promises to protect Jason's children from his marriage to Medea. Then he blesses the couple in the presence of the court.
Happiness reigns until Medea appears. Swathed in a veil, she utters harsh words, publicly claiming Jason as her legitimate spouse. Creon and Medea threaten each other: she threatens to cause Glauce's death if she marries Jason, and he threatens to kill her if she has not left Corinth by dawn. Furious, the king leaves the room, taking his daughter with him, who has been frightened by Medea's threats. Alone with Jason, Medea reproaches him for unfairly disowning her after all she has sacrificed for him. She demands that he return to her, but Jason refuses and orders her to leave Corinth.
A wing of Creon's palace. A temple is seen in the background. Neris, Medea's maid, informs her mistress that the townsfolk are furious and a crowd is gathering in the vicinity of the palace, cruelly demanding Medea's blood. She is reluctant to leave but cannot tolerate the idea that Jason, in addition to betraying her, is separating her from her children for ever. Creon approaches with his entourage to ask her to leave for the last time. But she persuades the king to allow her to stay for one more day, just the time she needs to carry out her cruel revenge. Neris, loyal to Medea and aware of what she is suffering, is determined to follow her wherever she may go. Surprised by the king's decision, Jason bursts in furiously and demands an explanation from his disowned wife. Medea takes advantage of the situation and asks him to give her children back to her. Jason is unable to stop himself from giving in to Medea's tears and he allows the children to spend the day with her, until she is ready to leave. Medea asks Neris to fetch her children from the temple. She must also give Glauce wedding gifts of a magic coronet and gown. In the distance the happy singing of the preparations of the wedding ceremony are heard.
A mountainous area near the temple. Medea invokes the gods of hell to carry out her terrible plan. Neris returns from the temple with the children. Medea is ready to kill them, but when she raises the dagger, she cannot carry through her plan. The mother love she feels for them makes her stop in her tracks. Neris informs her that Glauce thanks her for her wedding gifts and that she will wear them at the wedding so that Jason is proud of her. Medea tells the maid that the golden coronet is impregnated with a deadly poison that will kill Glauce as soon as she puts it on her head. Neris, horrified by such cruelty, begs her to spare her children's lives at least.
However, Medea's revenge has only just begun. When Glauce tries on the magic coronet and gown, a supernatural flame burns her face and there is nothing her maids can do to help her. Horrified, Creon embraces his daughter, his body absorbing the poison from her gown. Glauce's body is terribly disfigured by the deadly poison and the king dies too. Cries of lamentation are heard from within the palace: the sorceress's revenge has been a success. Jason and the townsfolk rush after Medea to give her the punishment she deserves, but Medea locks herself in the temple running after her children with a dagger in her hand. Neris tells Jason of Medea´s plan so that he can prevent the crime, but it is too late: Medea shows her spouse the blood-stained dagger she has used to kill her children. The temple goes up in flames. Terrified Neris, Jason and the townsfolk run away.