Stanford Scientists Discover Medea’s Lost Aria
Musical archeology has found us scraps of Mozart, bills submitted to the Church by J.S. Bach, some of Beethoven’s rants and notes jotted on paper, an entire first act to a Verdi opera (Don Carlo–long story, call me) Now it’ s the turn of Luigi Cherubini.
So why all the fuss? Stanford University reports the discovery of a lost aria from Cherubini’s Medee. The SLAC X-ray process was used to inspect a score in Cherubini’s hand writing. The last few pages had been blacked out by ink around 1800. Under the rubbing and the ink we find a whole finale unknown until now. (This is opera. You need to pause and sing at length before you kill anybody)
Cherubini (1760-1842) was an Italian who made his career in France. Napoleon Bonaparte was a fan. So was Beethoven. Cherubini’s music stopped just short of searing drama, often succumbing to the stateliness that Gluck used so beautifully. Cherubini’s Requiem and his Symphony in D remain in the repertoire. His sacred music is beautiful and devout. And then there’s Medee.
Euripides’ tragedy of the crazed princess, abandoned by her lover who kills her children before immolating herself…does that sound like an opera, or what? Cherubini turned this Greek tragedy into an opera-comique. Comic, no (dear God). Medee had spoken dialog between the arias and ensembles. It was written in French. It held the stage in Cherubini’s day. When he died, Medee vanished from the theaters.
Toscanini introduced Medea, in Italian, to La Scala in 1908 with recitatives composed by Franz Lachner. Medea was now a through-sung Italian opera, not what Cherubini intended. Nevertheless Medea became a bona fine hit in 1953 when Vittorio Gui produced it in Florence with Maria Callas. The opera remained central to Callas’s repertoire for the next ten years. After her, it held the stage for a time in New York (Eileen Farrell) London (Gwyneth Jones)
Paris (Shirley Verrett) and Dallas (Magda Olivero)
Imagine an impresario wanting to approach Callas with a new aria, explaining that her performances had been incomplete until now. “I’m not gonna tell her. You tell her!