Tuesday 10 January 2023

Medea & The Treacherous Ingrate


Motherly murder most foul
    "We must all bend our minds," she said brightly, "to think of different ways of boring our royal visitors to death. ... Alma Peacock, who is already straining at the leash and hasn't been off the telephone since yesterday afternoon, can easily be persuaded to give a gala production of some weighty classic, her little amateur theatre group doesn't know the meaning of the word fear, they've already done Hamlet, Mourning Becomes Electra, Young Woodley, Blithe Spirit and Antony and Cleopatra with Alma herself as Cleopatra. I see no reason why on this special occasion they shouldn't attack something really impressive like The Trojan Women or Medea ..."
    "I should dearly love to see Alma as Medea," said H.E. equably.

Noël Coward, Pomp and Circumstance, 1960
When I recently reread Noël Coward's (only) novel about the comedic and chaotic preparations of a small island in the Pacific in the run-up to The Royal Tour, the playful joke about Blithe Spirits included in the roll-call of weighty classics vigorously undertaken by the resident Amateur Dramatic Society was but one of the many giggles. 

But hold onto your hat, Dear Reader, when I tell you that it was only a mere handful of weeks later that we Pipistrellos had a Noble Visit of our own, and lo! last month we went to see Marc-Antoine Charpentier's opera Médée as one of our entertainments! 

Hence I can now fully appreciate His Excellency the Governor of fictional Samolo's jolly wish: Oh, the delicious incongruity of a ruthless murderess waging vengeance on her tiresome treacherous ingrate of a husband to be played by a motley crew of enthusiastic colonial thespians*. For the young ERII and Duke of E on their Royal Tour, it could have been a cultural offering par excellence!

Just as well we were fortunate that our V.I.P. visitor from the Kingdom of Newfoundland in Canada had an appreciative ear for such French baroque fancies. Apart from, ahem, enjoying the company of the Pipistrellos, the wish-list for Madame C principally featured seeking out marsupials for embracing to the patrician bosom**, so an evening of tragédie lyrique was hardly to be anticipated. 

My magical prowess got you your Golden Fleece
and now you're dumping me?? Beware, ingrate!!
Sang Catherine Carby to Michael Petruccelli
a.k.a Medea & Jason

Yet the impulsive purchase of tickets to see the dear princess-sorceress Medea go stark raving mad after scoundrel Jason (of Argonautic fame) tries to dump her for a younger model proved to be a delightful leavening to tramping about zoological gardens and whatnot. To see the treacherous ingrate Jason brought to his knees, general bloodthirsty mayhem ensued which was all rather satisfying, albeit seemingly a tad extreme as a revenge in these more equable times. The only real disappointment to the evening was needing to imagine rather than witness the 1693 stage directions specifying Medea to exit-stage left in a dragon-drawn chariot, a fanciful climactic flourish sadly dispensed with for this spare and stylish contemporary staging.

The libretto by Charpentier's collaborator Thomas Corneille provided for some cracking lines, even in translation, and when the opening scene has Medea singing,
Jason is an ungrateful liar.
My love for him tells me that
in no uncertain terms,
and Love does not deceive.
you know she's already smells a rat about the so-called shelter and hospitality of Creon, King of Corinth.

Foolish Jason for his part, now plotting with Creon and his nubile daughter Creusa for her hand, merely sings, tra la! 
How happy I would be if I were less loved! [Ed: Idiot]
Medea sets to thwart the sneaky lovers and it generally descends pretty quickly to her getting rather het up about the treachery and calling upon the Black Daughters of the Styx to aid her sorcery:
Let us punish the utter perfidy of this
ingrate. Let him suffer, if it is possible,
a hundred torments at once as he
watches the suffering of the one he loves.
And not to mention enlisting some general madness:
It is too much to suffer
the insult of vile contempt.
Come, madness,
you are the one to finish my work.
And then it is time to avert your gaze as the bloodbath is unleashed.

But I must say, the prize for inadvertent prescience goes to King Creon when he tried to deceive Medea into simply scooting off from Corinth for the duration of the impending war, claiming the unhappy Corinthians thought harbouring her was just asking for trouble:
I must silence the malcontents.
When you hear the storm rumbling
it is wisdom
not to resist the weather.
Yup. It was his head first on Medea's chopping block.

The End.

* I'm speaking of the book's earnest theatrical society and not the polished & professional Pinchgut Opera, obv.

**Alas and alack, it appears these are enlightened times and it is now verboten to undertake such mischiefs outside the Kingdom of Queensland and one must settle for a Michael Parkinson-style interview with the marsupials instead. No touching!


  1. Médée really have gone to therapy. Hello, my name is Médée, and I killed my ex's new wife, and cut the throats of her children. Not a good scenario.

    1. Ah, dear Cro, what would be the fun of that? Bridge-burning and general mayhem by Olympians (or their distant relations) is a respectable sport. Navel-gazing and remorse for one's actions is not in the job description.

  2. Have you seen on YouTube 'Overly Sarcastic' take on Medea? it's one of the best.

    1. Thank you for the merry diversion, dear Urspo! Jason was not very bright if he couldn't see that treachery and oath-breaking in those more colourful times wasn't the path to an unenviable demise.


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