Chiara Isotton's 'chilling' Medea a bloody good season closer Chiara Isotton as Medea in the Canadian Opera Company's production of MEdea, 2024. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Chiara Isotton's 'chilling' Medea a bloody good season closer

Greg Finney

Hello, Schmop-Tops!

To close out their season this year, I was able to catch the Canadian Opera Company’s productino of Cherubini’s Medea. The city was abuzz as Sondra Radvanovsky was slated to take on the title role. Unfortunately she was stricken with a bout of laryngitis and we wish her the speediest of recoveries. A silver lining is definitely Toronto’s introduction to the amazing Italian soprano that is Chiara Isotton.

Directed by Sir David McVicar and in co-production with The Metropolitan Opera, Greek National Opera, and Lyric Opera of Chicago, this production was quite the bang on which to go out. Just as thrilling as the music were the scenic and costuming designs by McVicar and Doey L├╝thl. They take the story – Greek mythology’s Jason, the Golden Fleece, and the sorceress Medea seeking revenge – and set the visuals in 18th-century Europe provided an interesting visual, and made it feel a lot more like it may have when it first premiered in 1797. The entire stage was flanked by a suspended, angled mirror that covered the entirety of the playing space. The angle of which gave the audience two perspectives at once: your standard proscenium arch view, as well as an overhead. It was a remarkable way to show the audience exactly how grand this set and costuming was.

A scene from Medea, Canadian Opera Company, 2024. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Let me tell you this: learn the name Chiara Isotton. Her instrument is clean, clear, powerful, and dynamic – a true full lyric with refined agility and quite the basket of acting chops. Her portrayal of the sorceress’s tortured descent into madness, culminating in her murdering her own children, was nuanced and gripping. You were regularly torn between fearing her and pitying her – and that is the key to Medea. My only qualm – and I actually understand why it was done – but I found she spent a lot of time crawling around the the stage. While it’s impressive to hear such amazing singing like that, and it did create a remarkable visual in the mirror over the stage watching her giant black train slither along the boards behind her, I felt it robbed her character of a lot of her innate strength and power. Again, small qualm and a totally personal one – another set of eyes may have the opposite opinion and I appreciate that as well.

Chiara Isotton as Medea in Medea, Canadian Opera Company, 2024. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Tenor Matthew Polenzani returns to the Four Seasons Centre stage as Giasone (Jason). His impressive figure embodying the Greek hero and soon-to-be-king to a tee. His strong, steely tenor handled the rep quite well, and I found his ensemble singing to be much stronger than in the past. Whether this was merely a better match in the sizes of instruments, or just a heightened connection to the score this time around, but I found him much stronger in duet, trio and finale moments as an ensemble member, not just a soloist. His connections with both Isotton and Janai Brugger as Glauce were engaging and truthful, while still delivering a good dose of proper grand opera.

Matthew Polenzani as Giasone and Chiara Isotton as Medea in Medea, Canadian Opera Company, 2024. Photo: Michael Cooper.

Speaking of the divine Ms. Brugger, her Glauce – Giasone’s doomed bride – was a sparkling revelation at the top of the show. Her voice while not betraying any of its brilliance told a story of fear, consternation, and forboding. The premonition she has overshadowing every moment of her excellent singing. A wonderful blend of delicacy and strength in Brugger’s tone lend themselves perfectly to the dramatic journey that Glauce needs to go on – and she goes on it fairly quickly in the grand scheme of the whole work. Her final death scene I think was the best use of the “ceiling mirror”. After receiving a secretly cursed diadem and sceptre as wedding gifts from the jilted Medea, she spends an entire musical number crawling, blood-soaked from one end of a giant banquet table. All while her father Creonte fatally tries to save her by also touching the diadem in an attempt to remove it. The entire scene was chilling.

Charlotte Siegel as First Handmaiden (in green dress), Janai Brugger as Glauce (in wedding dress), and Alex Hetherington as Second Handmaiden (right) in Medea, Canadian Opera Company, 2024. Photo: Michael Cooper.

As King Creonte, the only character to offer any sort of charity to Medea, despite insulting her gravely at the start, Alfred Walker brought a beautiful, full, bass-baritone sailed clearly over the orchestra in every part of his range. He juggled the balance of a king making stern decisions – as biased as they may be as his daughter is involved. The dramatic choices he made only strengthening his already masterful technique. He was magnetic to watch move across the stage.

As Neris, Medea’s companion, Zoie Reams was probably my favourite of the night. Her voice was remarkable and full and lush and comforting. A strong actress who makes bold, strong, truthful choices, her Neris was a grounding force of benevolence and rationality in this whole mixed-up world of gods and sorceresses and cursed jewellery. Her singing of the material felt truly as if she was speaking those words in the moment. While you don’t forget how beautifully she’s singing, you at times forget that you’re not hearing speech – it comes so easily to you.

Chiara Isotton as Medea and Zoie Reams as Neris in Medea, Canadian Opera Company, 2024. Photo: Michael Cooper.

In the supporting cast as the two handmaidens of Glauce, Charlotte Siegel and Alex Hetherington – these two ladies led a beautiful ensemble featuring the women of the COC Chorus, which always sings splendidly – and acts just as well. Alex Halliday as the Captain of the Guard is a good foil against the principal role and, as always, he sings well.

Overall this show was totally a banger. Everyone’s performance seemed to be at the top of their game, and with works of this era you can often find pace to be an issue. This was not so here, everyone’s character’s arc drove the story further and faster to it’s conclusion. It’s a wild ride both musically – thanks to masterful conducting from Lorenzo Passerini and the brilliance of the COC Orchestra – and dramatically thanks to McVicar and this amazing cast of singing actors that’s been assembled.

That’s the way to close a season.

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