Dear friends of Syracuse Opera,

I hope you have joined in on the fun and mystery following our own Lady M through her journey in the world of intrigue, gossip, and of course opera! Stepping out of Lady M’s magical Opera World, I want to present today something a little bit different. There will be bios and synopsis (and more!) or course, but in the case of The Medium, I got very intrigued by how this piece came about and I thought I would share some of the things that I found.

These days there is an infinite flow of information coming out of the internet. Most of us have a Wikipedia pages at our disposal that can give us as much information as we could ever wish to find and more! So I set out to look for maybe less obvious things, or condense some knowledge that I gathered here and there to add to our knowledge of how these fascinating pieces came about… as well as their place in our own operatic history!

The Medium is a short, one-hour long, two act dramatic opera with libretto and music by Gian Carlo Menotti, that was commissioned by the Alice M. Dixon fund. The first performance of The Medium took place at Columbia University on May 8, 1946. The opera’s first professional production was presented as a double bill with Menotti’s The Telephone in New York City on February 18 and 20, 1947. The Medium eventually went on to Broadway where it enjoyed an extraordinary eight month run and intensified interest in this dynamic new force in American music. It launched an appetite for distinctively lyrical, accessible style and flair for compelling librettos. Menotti always wrote his own texts for his operas, and more; for example, he wrote the libretto for Samuel Barber’s celebrated opera Vanessa.

It was, at first, a bumpy ride. In Menotti’s own words:
“I didn’t set out to write an opera for Broadway, I wanted to do opera in a small theater, away from a big opera house, to prove that an opera can be given with the same care as a play, and that it can be opened to a wider audience.”
“When my first publisher found out I was writing a chamber opera— and one about a medium—they were furious. They couldn’t believe I would go to a smaller theater after being at the Met, so they fired me.”

History shows that Menotti quickly found another publisher!

Now you will ask, where did the inspiration come for the piece itself?

Well, it seems that Gian Carlo Menotti was inspired to write The Medium after a real encounter with an eccentric Baroness. The Baroness was obsessed with spirituality and convinced that she could communicate with her deceased daughter through a séance, to which Menotti was invited about 10 years prior to writing The Medium. He wrote the opera—conceived to be a fairytale-like cautionary story— as criticism of the emotional treachery perpetrated against the grieving. That being said, his biography mentions he was profoundly moved, to tears, by the fact that the Baroness was so absolutely certain her beloved daughter’s spirit was present during the ritual. It is also an analysis and a criticism of two women that exploit each other in one way or another, and of Baba’s (Madame Flora to her clients) selfishness and drunkenness. It explores many themes such as substance abuse, codependency, enabling, and their inevitably violent tragic outcome.

In 1951, Menotti–with the help of filmmaker Alexandra Hammid–directed a film version made to resemble a film noir, that classic suspense filled, mysterious drama often featuring femme fatale characters. The film stars Mary Powers as Madame Flora and Anna Maria Alberghetti as Monica, two powerful leading ladies. The film of The Medium even competed in the 1952 Cannes Film Festival and is regarded as one of the finest examples of opera on film ever made.

Ok, Syracuse Opera Friends! That’s all for today! Join us again soon!

-Alexandra Deshorties