"The Medium" is a piece of pirate theater, snatching you from behind and dropping you in a distant land without a compass.
Theater lovers who squawk "it's an opera!" should know that it is first and foremost a compelling story, a dark little gem that happens to be sung. Don't look for arias, save for the grim "Black Swan" lullaby, which doesn’t carry enough steam to power a wake for Cruella Deville. The vocals in this Opera Naples production of the Gian Carlo Menotti tale essentially punctuate the emotion.
That said, it does so forcefully. Mrs. Nolan's vocalized anguish for her dead daughter is a vapor trail of grief (applause to Leah Summers as the gaunt, Nolan, gazing in pain at the world from under her cloche). The chorus of seance customers begging for another fix -- "This is the only joy we have in life!" -- is a clenched fist of harmonics, pitiful in its despair. But don't look for it on any third- (or fourth- or fifth-) tier volume of opera's greatest hits.
Opera Naples presents “The Séance” for the last time tonight at the Daniels Pavilions in Artis—Naples. If its 150-seat configuration and lack of backstage is a nightmare for the stage crew, the coziness is a joy to its audience. We can nearly share seats in the living room of the fraudulent Madame Flora, whose chandelier shivers on cue and whose household cowers under her drunken rages.
Mark Danni directs, knowing the acting will carry this play. Still, Madame Flora (Baba to her hapless daughter and mute houseboy) has lungs as strong as her Bette Davis eyes; Sondra Kelly is a Metropolitan Opera veteran who could sing paint off the Daniels Pavilion walls. She puts her dramatic mezzo into star play for scales of hair-raising laughter and shrieks of terror at the spirits who just may be avenging the sham illusions she has cooked up for customers. And when she strips her head of turban, headband, and poppy-orange wig, we know the worst is about to happen.
Lora Lee Gayer, as Monica, gives a tender heart to the teenager who dutifully slinks in gauze drape along the fire escape playing séance victims’ loved ones for her mother’s gatherings. She is expressive as sister/playmate/love interest for the speechless Toby (an equally agile and expressive Joey Bermudez) She suffers, however, from a need for operatic tuneup – she’s here from several Broadway musicals — and from staying power on high extended notes.
The 13-piece ensemble of Naples Philharmonic musicians under guest conductor Joseph Mechavich digs thoroughly into the tricky tempo maneuvers and hooks of the score; they shine in their role here.
As both the bereaved couple who have been coming weekly to hear their drowned son giggle in the afterlife and the sweethearts in the comic one-act “The Telephone” that precedes “The Medium,” Christopher Holloway and Kristina Bachrach carry the mail like pros. Both know when to ratchet up the dramatics — done to hilarious effect in “Telephone” — and when a more subdued persona can speak, or sing, more effectively.
Bachrach sails through the tricky runs of Lucy’s laughter in its solo, and Holloway is outmaneuvered and outraged by his gift to Lucy, which rings every time he tries to propose – until he figures out how to talk to her.
It is so engagingly done we’ll forgive the only slip amid the careful staging and design that included poodle skirt, wide-brimmed suit and ladies magazine with “Breck girl” back page: Lucy’s gift was a French boudoir phone. In the 1950s, the truly hip offering would have been a streamlined pink Princess model. Don’t ask me how I know this.
We are aching for someone to update this piece to “The iPhone,” and see where it can be taken. LOL