Medea

For the concert performance of Medea by the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra the following modifications were be made. With these changes I feel that the final state of the work has been reached. It was altered several times up to the first performance in Lyon in October 1984, some of these were for the good others not so but following the Lyon and Paris performances I have reflected at length and the Scottish performance gave the opportunity to allow the piece to find its best shape.

1. The entire Prologue is cut.

The opera starts, therefore, with Act 1 scene A. The raison d'être of the original prologue was to give a sequence of visual tableaux telling the story of Medea up to the beginning of Euripides' play. However, as Bob Wilson realised afterwards (sic) the opening aria of the Nurse in 1A tells exactly the same story - admittedly using words! The way Bob had spoken with me about this prologue originally was to say that the visual pictures were everything and therefore no music was necessary, or at best only the most unassertive background music should be used. In the event more was needed, the music (composed to be incidental) was thrust into a foreground space it was ill-equipped to occupy. Bobıs solution was to superimpose texts by Heiner Müller, all of which has now gone leaving only the original Euripides material as far as libretto is concerned. Now the opera begins with the spoken Greek monologue of the Nurse with a few bars of music preceding her newly written aria, a female chorus is superimposed on her singing and the orchestration is modified.

2. Act 4 Scene D is cut except for the opening chorus (vocal score P104-5)

This is the scene where Medea murders her children. In Lyon and Paris it was done in such a way that the murders happen off stage and the scene comprises a spoken "play" with all the singers in the opera appearing in everyday dress seated at a long table reading fragments from news reports about things like child abuse and so on. This scene was created very hurriedly in Lyon and, for the music, again I was to provide a quiet background (which ironically the conductor Richard Bernas liked very much!). Its pace is that of Ives The Unanswered Question, using very slow quotations from many different operatic versions of Medea.

In the revised version the music now goes from the end of the chorus at the beginning of 4D directly to the "kneeplay" before 5A leading into 5A itself, an orchestral interlude, which would serve exactly the same function as the cut 4D i.e. an intimation that events were happening off-stage.

3. Act 5 Scene A is reinstated.

This orchestral interlude, although played in the final dress rehearsal (October 20th 1984) and therefore on the tape recording of the rehearsal, was cut. This scene had not been rehearsed until then and a puppet, used to show a figure - Creonıs daughter - falling in flames from a cliff, did not work .

4. Act 4 Scene A is reinstated.

This scene was cut from the production because the dance which accompanied the choral singing was not interesting, though again not looked at fully until the final dress rehearsal. It is a scene for divided male chorus and was given extensive music rehearsals. This, again, is present on the 1984 dress rehearsal tape.

5. At the beginning of Act 3 there was a spoken text preceding the music which begins the act. This has been cut. There was also spoken text during an orchestral fermata in Act 3 Scene A interrupting the duet between Medea and Aegeus. This text (which is not in the score) is cut.

This produces the following structure:

Part One

Act 1
Scene A Nurse, Chorus
Scene B Nurse, Tutor
Scene C Nurse, Tutor (Medea off stage)
Scene D Nurse, Tutor (Medea off stage)

Act 2
Scene A Chorus, Nurse (Medea offstage)
Scene B Medea, Chorus
Scene C Medea, Creon, Chorus
Scene D Jason, Medea, Chorus

interval

Part Two

Act 3
Scene A Aegeus, Medea, Chorus
Scene B Medea, Chorus
Scene C Jason, Medea, Chorus
Scene D

Act 4
Scene A Chorus
Scene B Tutor, Medea
Scene C Messenger, Medea, Chorus
Scene D Chorus

Act 5
Scene A Orchestra
Scene B Jason, Medea, Chorus
Scene C Jason, Chorus

This alters the running time as follows
Part One 1 hour 10 minutes
Part Two 1 hour 25 minutes.
(total about 2 hours 35 minutes)

It is possible to break up Part Two into Act 3 (about 35 minutes) and Act 4/5 (about 50 minutes) making a three part opera - particularly if two intervals were needed.

Gavin Bryars.
1994.

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