Opera Scotland

Médée Medea


Marc-Antoine Charpentier (born Paris, 1643; died Paris, 24 February 1704)


Thomas Corneille (1625-1709).


Classical Greek tragedy (431 BC) by Euripides (c484-406 BC) and French tragedy (1635) by Pierre Corneille (1606-1684).



First Performance: Paris (Académie Royale de Musique - Opéra), 4 December 1693.

First Performance in UK BBC radio broadcast, 13 February 1953.

First Performance in UK (staged): London (Coliseum) date tbc.

First performance in Scotland: Edinburgh (Usher Hall), concert of excerpts, 10 August 2015.



Charpentier's version of the Medea legend is a superbly intense tragic opera with very little of the light touches with which Lully generally leavened his serious works. Certainly this piece ends in an atmosphere of unrelieved gloom. The opera was not hugely successful at first, and quickly disappeared from the repertoire, remaining unperformed until the late twentieth century. It was rediscovered and its quality quickly acknowledged., following the issue of two separate recordings directed by William Christie. He also conducted the only British production, for ENO. The only appearance in Scotland so far is of extracts from the opera in an SCO concert conducted by John Butt (originally booked with Christie) at the 2015 Edinburgh Festival, in which pieces from another rarity, Rameau's Les Boréades, also featured.


Main Characters

Medee, a sorceress (soprano)

Jason, her husband (haute-contre)

Creon, King of Corinth (bass)

Creuse, his daughter (soprano)

Oronte, prince of Argos (bass)


Plot Summary

Creon of Corinth gives shelter to the Sorceress Medea, her husband Jason and their children, as they flee from Thessaly, where she has been condemed for her crimes. As the Thessalians prepare to attack Corinth, Creon is joined in alliance by Oronte and his forces from Argos. Creon promises Oronte that he can marry his daughter Creusa.

Medea becomes jealous of Creusa because she suspects that Jason no longer loves her and is, himself, planning a marriage with Creusa. Creon now promises his daughter to Jason, so Medea enters into a pact with Oronte. She presents Creusa with a robe which has been impregnated with a poison.

Creon insists that Medea now leaves Corinth. She now takes her revenge, using her magic powers to wrreak havoc. She drives Creon into a frenzy of madness, in which he kills Oronte. she activates the dormant poison in Creusa's robe and she dies in agony. Finally she kills her children before fleeing the city. Jason is left alone and desolate.

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