Lisbon, OperaFest 21 : Gian Carlo Menotti, The Medium

Lisbonne, The Medium, Operafest 21

FestOpera : a new Opera Festival in Lisbon

Courage, audacity, imagination: these qualities, which one would like to find more often in the programming of prestigious musical institutions, are perfectly embodied by the very young OperaFest Lisboa, whose second edition was held this year. Led by soprano Catarina Molder, its enthusiastic and inspiring artistic director, this festival (from August 20 to September 11) offers to the Lisboet audience the opportunity to applause, in the stunning setting of the gardens of the Museo de Arte Antiga, famous and not-so-well-known milestones of 20th century opera (Puccinis Madama Butterfly, Weill’s Mahagonny-Songspiel and Menotti’s Medium), excerpts from staged operas (Alma em Fogo), contemporary premieres (Até que a Morte nos Separe by local composer Ana Seara and a bouquet of arias commissioned to Portuguese composers), but also to practice amateur singing (Lyric Machine) or dance to classical music remixed in cabaret, disco or pop style (Rave Operatica).

Gian Carlo Menotti : The Medium

The Medium à l'Operafest de Lisbonne
© Pedro Soares

The score for chamber orchestra, compact, elusive and dramatic, is on par with this tale of human weakness and cruelty. Menotti’s neoclassical music has often been compared to Puccini’s; here, it leans more towards Weill and, most of all, Britten’s Jamesian opera The Turn of the Screw (another story of childhood and ghosts). For a little more than an hour, the melodic motives exposed in the Overture irrigate a tenuous orchestral discourse that envelop and stimulate the human voice – be it sung, spoken, whispered or screamed. Menotti has often proclaimed the pre-eminence, in his work, of theater over music: The Medium is a striking demonstration of this. Directed with precision and bravado by Diogo Costa, the MPMP Ensemble comes through this deceptively simple music with flying colors.

The mezzo-soprano Cátia Moreso is a « Madame Flora » straight out of the world of cabaret (let’s recall that The Medium was a huge hit in Broadway). Her powerful voice is capable of the most subtle nuances, essential to render the complexity of her character, part-tormentor part-victim, where the explosive violence seems to hide a secret wound. In the role of Monica, the soprano Cecília Rodriguez, both woman and child, gives the full measure of her talent in the moving lullaby that closes the first act, where she soothes her mother’s fears. The vocal cast (and Toby, a silent role performed with sensitivity by Benjamim Barroso) offers a convincing reply to the formidable Baba. Faced with this Saraghina of sorts, who is in turn terrifying, moving or pathetic, the medium’s clients oppose their desolate humanity, locked in a pain that also condemns them to the margins of reality.

The staging makes the most of the constraints of the relatively narrow stage. A special mention goes to the lightings, which, through the play of screens, deploys a fascinatif shadow theater reinforcing the nightmarish atmosphere of Menotti’s tale.

Once vanished in Lisbon night the last notes of Menotti’s music, the statues in the garden, as if in tune with the unreal atmosphere of the opera, mingled with the audience, accompanying with their silent standing ovation the thunder of applause honoring the artists of this beautiful production.

The artists

Cátia Moreso : Mrs Flora (« Baba »)
Cecília Rodrigues : Monica
Benjamim Barroso : Toby
Carla Simões : Mrs Gobineau
Tiago Amado Gomes : Mr Gobineau
Ana Rita Coelho : Mrs Nolan

Ensemble MPMP, conductor Diogo Costa
Stage Direction : Sandra Faleiro
Set Design : Roberta Azevedo Gomes
Light Design : Gi Carvalho

The program


Gian Carlo Menotti (1911-2007)

Opera in 2 acts; words and music by Gian Carlo Menotti; first performance : 8 May 1946, Brander Matthews Theater (Columbia University).

FestOpera 21, 29 August 2021.