It was Jean-Louis Barrault in 1967 who asked me to write the music for Medea of Seneca for Maria Casares’ Medea in a stage version of Jorge Lavelli with the Ensemble of Musique Vivante under the direction of Diego Masson for the Théâtre de l’Odéon in Paris.
I hesitated because I knew Seneca as a pseudo-philosopher, an imperial courtier, and above all a Roman who sought, like all the Romans of that period, to emulate the ancient Greek masterpieces.
But in reading the Latin text written in the first century ad I was seduced by its violent sonority, its barbarity, and so I agreed. I used a chanted male chorus, to preserve the sonority of the Latin particularly in verses 301 to 379. These verses relate the story of the maritime journey of the Argonauts, hence the stones—symbol of the virgin sea [‘stones’ is a reference to the rocks that guarded the entrance to the Euxine Sea by clashing against each other when anything passed between them]. This, however, is only a very small part of the Medea of Seneca which consists of a total of 1,027 verses.
from notes by Nouritza Matossian © 1998