Medea (Benda)


Geoffrey Lancaster (fortepiano) and friends

WAAPA Music Auditorium

reviewed by Neville Cohn


For many, if not most, the word ‘melodrama’ evokes movies of the silent era in which, say, the heroine is tied to railway tracks as a steam train bears down inexorably  towards the terrified victim while the villain of the piece watches with an evil smile. (This was a staple episode in many an early movie made in the USA.)


Back in the 18th-century, through, melodrama was thought of in the ancient Greek sense, as a work which combined music and on-stage action. One of the finest instances of the genre is Georg Benda’s Medea, a re-working of the ancient Greek tragedy in which the eponymous murderess kills her own children, a hideous story that has been a source of horrified fascination for centuries. (Mozart, incidentally, was greatly taken by Benda’s skill in melodramas of which he spoke in glowing terms.)


It was an inspiration to feature Geoffrey Lancaster at the fortepiano. As if to the manner born, he gave point and meaning to an often cruelly demanding score with expected flair and an ineffably fine grasp of style, mood and pace.


Against this immaculate sonic background, Belinda Cox, garbed in funereal black as Medea and evoking an aura of inescapable tragedy, gave an account of this demanding and lengthy role at a level which augurs well for a career on stage. Certainly, her ability to remain in character throughout says much for this young actor’s potential.


Smaller roles, too, were clearly taken seriously and presented with care. Ry Charlson was convincing in a very brief role as Jason as was Monica Brierley-Hay as the governess. Gretel and David Smith did well, too, as Medea’s children


Not the least of the pleasures afforded by this presentation was the quite exceptional quality of the program notes. They are a model of their kind and ought to be read with care by anyone with aspirations to writing program notes of any kind. Factual and fascinating, they don’t come much better than this.

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