The Greats of Wrath

Through the upstage glass door, we see Medea take the boys off. Under a crash of electronic screeches, blood splashes onto the inside of the door, then one of the boys runs terrified into view and Medea chases him down and carries him back into the wings. The noise abates. For the first time in the 90-minute production, the stage goes silent, save for the dim hum of a banal song playing on a radio somewhere. Medea returns with each corpse, and quietly washes the boys' feet in the pool as Jason weeps.

No chariot comes to sweep her off to Athens, as Euripides supplies. In a more Beckettian vision, she and Jason, the closest of enemies, are left with each other to go on.

Jason and the Scorcher: the Warner-Shaw Medea
photo: Neil Libbert
Jason and the Scorcher: the Warner-Shaw Medea


By Euripides
Brooklyn Academy of Music
30 Lafayette Street,

Galileo Galilei
An opera by Philip Glass
Libretto by Mary Zimmerman with Philip Glass and Arnold Weinstein
Brooklyn Academy of Music (closed)

The primal passions of the Greek tragedies have made them repeated sources for opera, of course. The Richard Strauss Elektra in the current Metropolitan Opera season, starring Deborah Polaski and Karita Mattila, is a thrilling masterpiece of tragic inexorability, for instance. Postmodern operas, on the other hand, have made an insistent point of being less, well, operatic. In the worst instances—and sad to say, Philip Glass's Galileo Galilei at BAM is one of them—the works are cold and empty. That's especially disheartening given Glass's rich subject, a morally complicated genius, and the director (and primary librettist), the wondrously imaginative Mary Zimmerman.

This Galileo tells the astronomer's biography backward—from his old age, to his recantation, to the publication of his discoveries, to his childhood—but makes no other intervention in the basic narrative. There's no issue or conflict or idea or obsession that takes on life through this musical telling of his tale: It is the story of Galileo, but not his drama. Zimmerman's masterful staging and gorgeous, elaborate sets by Daniel Ostling—Palladian archways, marble floor, astrological projections on a giant scrim—and all the arpeggios in the world cannot make up for the lack of action.

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