Raina Kabaivanska is at the Festival of Two Worlds to present the concert performance of the dramatic opera in two acts The Medium that Gian Carlo Menotti composed in 1946. The famous soprano has brought on stage all young singers who come from her master classes. After more than 55 years of an outstanding career in the world’s major theaters, Raina Kabaivanska has been teaching courses and master classes all over the world for the last 20 years. Some of today’s most internationally renowned artists have worked in these classes.
After witnessing a seance in 1936, Menotti decided to relive this experience in an opera in the following years: the project was accomplished in 1946 - with the first performance at the Brander Matthews Theater in New York, on May 8th of that year - thanks to a commission of the ´Alice M. Ditson Fund´ at the Columbia University in New York. The composer had already successfully tried his hand at opera buffa with Amelia Goes to the Ball and The old Maid and the Thief (Philadelphia 1941).
With The Medium he also obtained success in the tragic genre and, subsequently he prepared a second version, slightly expanded, which was presented in the 1947-48 season at the Ethel Barrymore Theater on Broadway. The American success was joined by the European diffusion: in 1949 the Italian ´premiere´ took place in Genoa under the direction of the composer, who achieved genuine success, though not as resounding as in the United States. In 1951 a film version of the opera followed (also presented at the Venice Film Festival), which the author-director preferred to make in Italy where, unlike the United States, «the movie camera is under the undisputable orders of the director», as he had said. The successive repeats are uncountable, scattered in theaters all over the world: from Helsinki (1958) to Spoleto (1969, Italian version by D´Amico, revived in 1981), to Minsk (1989).
Act One. Monica and Toby are playing when Baba arrives. They now have to get ready for the guests and the seance where they will collaborate in a fake evocation of the spirits. The guests arrive: there is Mrs. Nolan (to summon her daughter Doodly) and the Gobineau spouses (for their young son Mickey): in reality, it will be Monica talking to them. In the dark, though, Baba really feels a phantom hand touching her and she is “terror stricken”. After the guests leave, the fake medium begins to suspect the mute Toby, although Monica tries to calm her down.
Second act. Monica and Toby are playing in front of the puppet theater used for the supernatural "staging": their joy reveals great mutual tenderness. Baba arrives, semi-drunk, and tries to discover if it was the mute Toby who touched her. While her nervousness increases she ends up threatening him. The clients arrive for the session: Baba confesses her tricks, but they refuse to believe her, until she drives them away. Now questioning her own sanity, she invokes God’s pardon and gets hysterically flustered which makes Toby run away from her and hide behind a curtain. Baba sees this movement and shoots in that direction: a blood stain appears on the white curtain, while Monica runs for help.
In this opera, as in his other productions, Menotti adopts a language which is attentive to the needs of the average listener and heavily indebted to the veristic tradition as he is convinced he should devote himself to the search of the «inevitable, not the new». He also dedicates great attention to the effectiveness of the melodic parts. Baba’s pieces, and even more Monica’s, are treated like real arias; the latter is a participant, with Toby, of a world where the symbols of supernatural, fairy-tale and childhood tend to mingle. A vague impressionism characterizes the initial lyric and Doodly’s piece ("Mammy, you must not cry", resembles some passages from Suor Angelica by Puccini), while popular echoes are present in the lullaby "O black swan" (of a particular modal, Slavic tone). Baba often intervenes with pieces of theatrical proclamation; even the ensemble scenes present the tune in dialogue form, often recited. Apart from some sharp pieces in imitative style, the accompanying melody prevails in order to bring out the best of the melodic line, according to a tradition of veristic origin. The orchestra, with chamber dimensions, is always ready to underline the trespassing from the real to the imaginary with dissonance or crazed dance rhythms: the nervous interventions of the piano are typical, while Baba´s delirium in the final soliloquy is conveyed with citations of fragments from previous pieces. It is the skillful writing for the orchestra (which «has a crucial value, not just a comment» as Menotti had said), combined with simple and concentrated dramaturgy (in the wake of realism, as well as the grotesque element introduced with the mute character of Toby), along with the melodic ease, at the service of a screenplay that emphasizes the emotional aspects, that have led to widespread appreciation of the opera by the general public.
Source: Dizionario dell’Opera Baldini&Castoldi