At its Paris première, Médée met with a lukewarm reception and was not revived. However, it soon became popular, in translation, among German audiences. Originally, the work contained spoken dialogue. These were set to music in 1855 by Franz Lachner for a performance in Frankfurt. Since then, Médée is invariably given in German in Lachner's purely sung version or an Italian translation thereof and usually referred to as Medea.
Medea is a heroic role requiring tremendous vocal stamina and control. Great interpreters of the role have been rare. In the 20th century, only Maria Callas, Eileen Farrell, Magda Olivero, and Leonie Rysanek have successfully taken on the part.
Perhaps the most famous 20th century revival of the work was in Florence in 1953, with Maria Callas in the title role and conducted by Leonard Bernstein filling in at the last moment for an indisposed Victor de Sabata.
In preparing for the role, Callas lost a dramatic amount of weight; she wanted a gaunt jaw line, "very thin, very pronounced" as she later put it in an interview. Callas said later (1961) of the role: