A Ghost’s Song: A Review Of 'The Medium'
Just in time for Halloween season, we have a resourceful production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s operatic thriller The Medium. Directed by Leo Rialp, it’s being staged at the Zobel de Ayala Recital Hall on the 2nd floor of Maybank Performing Arts Theater in BGC, and if you’re looking for a musically entertaining, creepy night, there’s one more weekend of performances on November 23 to 25.
Essentially a chamber opera, Menotti was commissioned by Columbia University to create this piece, and it bravely updates the genre by having all the songs sung in English, and by incorporating atonal and more modern music. The story is pure melodrama, centring on Madame Flora who conducts seances to make contact with the recently departed of people she ensnares—especially those who have lost their children, and are in emotional turmoil. There’s a daughter, Monica, and Toby, a deaf mute Gypsy, who stay concealed and help Madame Flora with the scam she’s running.
It’s a tight, little opera that relies much on the set, lighting, and stage movement to create the right atmosphere and ‘selling’ the premise. The stage runs down the center of the entire room, bisecting it; making for an intriguing night, as we turn our head from side to side to take in the action and characters as they emanate from the ends of the hall.
Jay Glorioso as Madame Flora is a menacing presence, while Lara Maigue’s Monica is virgin whiteness and sweetness caught up in these malevolent, macabre events. Toby (Joseph Nabong) is devoid of speech, but says a lot with his pleading eyes, entreating hands and timid movements. Together, the three make a powerful troika of contrasts all caught up in events that spiral beyond their control.
At one level, the libretto is about gullibility, and how people will insist on being scammed if it serves some inner purpose. And then, it’s also about playing with forces and notions that are beyond our understanding or control—how tempting fate and fortune can lead to bitter payback. Masterfully, this is brought home to us by Rialp’s direction, and the nuances brought forward by the 6-man cast of thespians and singers.
It’s dark, it’s moody, it’s melodramatic; and it’s great singing and hugely entertaining.