Tuesday, February 25, 2014

[record review] Eleni Karaindrou "Medea"

This is an adaptation and a setting to music by Eleni Karaindrou of the famous play by Euripides. It was apparently performed live in Epidauros and in the Odeon Herodes Atticus in Athens in 2011 and now it is available as an album on the ECM label. I bought it because I am all about the Ancient Greek stuff and because Medea is one of the few Ancient Greek plays I can quote any lines from in Greek (er, actually the only one), mainly thanks to the magic of having studied it in school. As you will recall, the play tells the story of the sorceress from Colchis who had helped Jason and the Argonauts fleece the Golden Fleece. Now, though, Jason is divorcing his weirdo foreign wife in order to marry into the royal family of Thebes, but Medea decides to enact a terrible revenge by murdering their children. The play is odd in how it manages our sympathies; obviously no right thinking person supports the idea of child murder as a way of getting at your ex, but in the play our sympathies lie always with the crazy foreign witch and never with smarmy Jason.

I have not listened to this record very closely (as is true of most records), but I am struck by how undramatic it is. One of the things I most remember from the play itself is smarmy Jason, but he does not seem to get much of a look in here. Euripides has some great scenes in which Jason tells Medea he is divorcing her and running her out of town, and then he expects her to be happy about this because he is doing such a sensible thing by marrying the local princess. But here we seem to just have music with occasional bits of singing rather than the kind of sung dialogue or speechifying you would imagine it this was a play set to music. I am not sure what is happening here. Maybe they have heavily adapted it to make it even more woman-focussed by cutting Jason's direct appearances, or maybe in performance the music here accompanied spoken dialogue not reproduced on the record.

The other odd thing about this is how restrained it all is. Medea is a play about madness and despair, about the chaotic and irrational triumphing over rational self-confidence. But there is none of that in the music. The music is pleasant to listen to, the kind of thing that I would happily put on while reading a book or resting, but there is nothing about it that suggests it accompanies the story of a woman who kills her children.

ECM's site for the record (and image source)

An inuit panda production; this post appeared in issue 138 of Frank's APA.

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