lange nacht der opern

by Sirje

Last night were our preview rehearsal/performances of Menotti’s The Medium, as part of the Berlin Lange Nacht der Opern & Theater. It was actually kind of a blast.

This short little opera (about an hour long) is basically about a “psychic,” Madame Flora, who, with the help of her daughter and a mute boy they’ve taken in (played in our case by an absolutely fantastic actor with Down Syndrome), plus the requisite levers, pullies and magnets, channels the spirits of her regular paying customers’ dear departed. Everyone is poor and miserable, everyone has lost something, and there’s this fascinating undercurrent, waves of power and pity, weakness and cold strength, frailty and brute strength. Loss of control, exertion of control, surrender, delusion. Everyone is doing what they can to make the best of their conditions with a brave face, as bleak as these may be, grasping every advantage to come closer to what they desire – admiration, attention, money, liquor, numbness, love, sex. Maybe sex. Ok it’s always sex. It’s opera!

Monica is not a role I ever thought I’d sing, but it turns out she’s not exactly the ingénue I suspected she was; she’s twisted, sexual, naiive, clever, manipulative, lonely, abused, strong, and another half dozen adjectives I’ll think of in a minute. In our production she’s a bit of a Lolita. Maybe a bit older than Lolita.

My theory is that she’s never left the apartment, and she’s a teenager who is conspicuously growing out of the little girl clothes her mother can’t be bothered to replace, projecting everything onto her little living doll, Toby. She’s got a vivid little-girl sort of imagination but everything is interlaced with this blossoming narcissism, and she’s also inherited her mother’s explosive temper, which is only just beginning to show.  And meanwhile, of course, there’s Madame Flora herself, who is quite surprised when she actually DOES start to channel something. But it’s not Patrick Swayze, and the consequences are less happy happy Whoopie and the clay pot.

I’m really looking forward to exploring all this stuff. Vocally I suppose it’s sort of American verismo, if such a thing could exist. I’ve never sung Menotti before, so it’s challenging to find my core in the music; my voice is quite a bit darker and fuller than the typical chirpy, angelic Monica most people know, and than what I’d always had in my ear. But I actually think it makes more sense when she’s cast more in my direction on the Fach spectrum.

Here are some notable clips of The Medium. The first is legendary Maureen Forrester as Baba/Madame Flora and Shawna Farrell as Monica, singing Black Swan at the end of the first act from the 70s.

This second clip is a modern Italian production (in Italian!): Monica’s Waltz sung at the beginning of the second act. I like the beginning of this clip because of the creepy set and puppet show. *shudder*