Pacini’s Medea in Hildesheim

You know the works of Puccini. Some of you, perhaps enthusiasts of baroque music, may have heard compositions by Piccinni, but who amongst you has come across Pacini? A Sicilian, he had a reasonably successful career in the mid-19th century, concentrating mainly on comic opera in his younger days before turning to more serious material in his later years. The Landestheater in Hildesheim had the bright idea of staging, alongside Corneille’s play Medea and a ballet with the same title, an operatic version; not the familiar Cherubini, or even that by Charpentier, but the first German performance of Pacini’s tragedy. Although this was an interesting venture, the disinterment cannot objectively be justified. The composer certainly has a melodic gift and the score contains some striking passages for woodwind and brass, but the juxtaposition of different musical styles is disconcerting. So, for example, a dramatic aria for Medea, with appropriately dark disturbing harmonies moves insensitively straight into a jaunty dance-like melody. Surely not the way to treat intense Greek tragedy.

Conversely, the production by Beka Savić served the material very well. The restricted movements of the principals suited the austerity of the action, as did the designs, devised by Anna Siegrot. A single setting, a staircase erected around scaffolding, allowed divine forces mysteriously to emerge at its centre, while semi-transparent veils could be drawn back and forth, delimiting the private and public spheres. The costumes were predominantly black, relieved only partially by the dark browns and mauves for human protagonists.

Florian Zieman’s reading of the score was convincing, notwithstanding a couple of minor discordances between stage and pit. The bel canto vocal challenges were met by the soloists with only partial success. Best among the cast was Yohan Kim as Giasone. His steely tenor comfortably negotiated the often high-lying tessitura and communicated effectively the ambivalence of his situation, drifting between guilt and ambition. Creonte was well sung and characterised by Zachary Wilson but the considerable vocal demands of the role of Medea proved to be too great for Robyn Allegra Parton. While dramatically she shifted effectively between the various character attributes and moods, and sang the more introspective passages with delicacy and nicely coloured tones, the outbursts of high emotion requiring loud and agile manoeuvring at the top of the soprano register led to her voice swooping upwards towards what can only be described as shrieking of the upper notes.

A smallish audience registered its approval, more perhaps for the worthiness of the undertaking than the success of its outcome.