In a dark and sloppy room a medium called Madame Flora cashes in on the gullibility of her customers. At their request she summons the spirits of the dead. She is assisted by her daughter Monica and the gypsy deaf-mute Toby, who both do not realize how much they help damaging their Madame's poor customers. Madame Flora, who is also known as Baba, gets under the influence of her bogus séances herself, which eventually leads to her own downfall.
The Medium was a tremendous hit on Broadway. The opera by Italian American composer Gian Carlo Menotti is a lively, sensitive and colourful musical drama. "We have here the quality of opera", New York Times music critic Olin Downes said. "It is dramatic music, emphatic in action as well as feeling, and in essence song, which is what opera must be. No other American composer has shown the inborn talent that Mr. Menotti, an Italian by descent, unquestionable possesses for the lyric theater." It shows changes in style and atmosphere continuously. The singers speak out loud to enforce some kind of shock effect. As if the summoning of the dead is not striking enough, Menotti lets Baba recall some gruelling memories, probably from World War II.
Critics blamed Menotti for his melodramatic methods, and after a few years the opera was considered outdated. The premiere of the two-act opera took place in New York City on May 6, 1949. On Broadway it was performed over 200 nights in a run.
The idea behind The Medium reminds of Giacomo Puccini's verismo operas, although it certainly fails to show musical power to really count as a top opera. Menotti's work (he wrote libretto as well) is actually more of an old-fasioned melodrama that is presented as an opera. It is probably as much at home in a theatre as it is in a true opera house. Therefore Menotti is sometimes compared to Kurt Weill, who also enhances the view to stage for an everyday audience.
Five years after the theatre premiere, Gian Carlo Menotti brought his opera to the movie screen. The Medium, or Il Medium in Italy, starred Marie Powers (Madame Flora), Anna Maria Alberghetti (Monica) and Leopoldo Savona (Toby). The movie earned Menotti an Oscar nomination in 1953, in the category "Best Music, Scoring of a Musical Picture". A year before the film had won the award for Best Lyrical Film at the Cannes Film Festival.
Quote and info from:
- Prisma's Opera