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The central themes in the story of Médée and Jason are deception, betrayal and revenge.

The Greek myth on which Charpentier based his opera tells us that Médée, through her efforts to help her beloved Jason obtain the Golden Fleece, betrays her family and countrymen. As a result the pair flee to Corinth but in order to further his own political and romantic interests Jason in turn betrays Médée, abandoning her to marry Créuse, daughter of Créon king of Corinth. Créon in his turn deceives Oronte, the prince of Argos by promising him the hand of Créuse while planning her marriage to Jason…and so it goes, each deception adding fuel to the fire until Médée exacts a terrible revenge that consumes them all.

Deception and illusion are integral components of theatrical design and it is fitting that the supernatural effects and transformations called for in this production are rooted in stagecraft that was born at the time this opera was written. Artists and designers in the 17th century employed a myriad of tricks to engage and delight an audience that expected to see the magic of myth brought to life before their eyes. Flying machines, trap doors, moving set pieces and instruments producing the sounds of wind rain and thunder were all developed in this period and remain in use to this day.

The designs for this production of Medea indulge in the same kind of scenic trickery. Painted imitations of priceless 17th century tapestries frame scenes of forced perspective that give the impression of great depth on a shallow stage. Vistas of architecture are enveloped in painted mist and appear from clouds of artificial haze and fog. At the moment when Médée conjures the powers of the underworld to assist her revenge her cavernous place of incantation transforms with light and billowing silk into a sea of flame. Later when she bewitches Créon and drives him mad a scrim of sun-lit trees, fountains and temples dissolves into an apocalyptic wasteland foretelling death and destruction. All are tricks of light and paint.

The techniques employed to create these effects demand a suspension of disbelief. However simple they invite the audience to engage in an act of imagination that is not necessary with computer generated video and costly automation. Often I find too much technology on stage distracts from the drama. Tonight instead with light paint and smoke, we hope to deceive and enchant your eyes while never betraying our trust in genuine, time-tested theatricality.

– Gerard Gauci

Medea runs April 22-29 at the Elgin. Buy your tickets today!

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