Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Monday, December 4

"Medea" by Charpentier (and Druckman)

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1693, a new opera based on an old legend had its premiere performance at the Académie de la Musique in Paris. The new opera was by the French Baroque composer Marc-Antoine Charpentier, and the old legend was that of Medea, the sorceress who murdered her own children to revenge her abandonment by their father, the Greek hero, Jason.

Charpentier’s “Médée” (to give his opera its French title) was well received by its first audiences. The most celebrated French soprano of her day sang the title role, but one contemporary critic, impressed by Charpentier’s achievement, wrote, “The emotions are so vivid, that even if the role were only spoken, the opera would not fail to make a great impression.”

In the three centuries following Charpentier’s opera, many other musicians have taken up the Medea legend as well. In 1980, the American composer Jacob Druckman took themes from three famous Medea operas and worked these into a three-movement orchestral suite entitled “Prisms.”

Druckman had Medea on his mind, and was considering writing an opera based on the legend himself. Druckman died before that could happen, but his suite salutes three of his successful predecessors. Charpentier’s version of “Medea” has pride of place, and is quoted in the first movement of Druckman’s score.

Music Played in Today's Program

Marc-Antoine Charpentier (1635 – 1704) Médée Les Arts Florissants; William Christie, cond. Harmonia Mundi 90.1139/41

Jacob Druckman (1928 – 1996) Prism New York Philharmonic; Zubin Mehta, cond. New World 335

Additional Information

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