Gian Carlo Menotti: The Medium
Barbara LandisChicago Opera TheaterDiane RagainsJoyce CastleLawrence RapchakPatrice MichaelsPeter Van De Graaff
- CDR 90000 034
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Oft-performed but mysteriously absent on recordings, Menotti's eerie opera The Medium has materialized in its first recording in more than a quarter century. This two-act "musical drama" is about a fake psychic whose surprise encounter with the unknown leads to murder and mayhem. It is stage a dozen times annually in the US alone. Yet, recordings haven't been available for years, and (until now) it has never appeared on CD.
A "sensational success" for Menotti (Kobbé's Opera Book), the present version of The Medium had its premiere February 18, 1947 at New York's Heckscher Theater. New York Times music critic Olin Downes wrote, "we have here the quality of opera. 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." Critic (and composer) Virgil Thomson called it a "first-class musico-theatrical work . . . the most gripping operatic narrative [he] has witnessed in many a year . . .[It] wrings every heart string, and the music is thoroughly touching."
Its success led to Broadway, where it opened on May 1, 1947, at the Ethel Barrymore Theater for a run of 211 performances. "Deaf (in the musical sense) as I am," wrote Saturday Review's drama critic, John Mason Brown, "I responded to Mr. Menotti's score and felt its rightness for its book . . . they fused with arresting results." New Yorker drama critic John Lardner described "an enraptured audience, which kept shouting 'Viva!', 'Encore!', and even, now and then, 'Bis!'"
In Cedille's recording, Miss Castle brings to the title role a finely crafted interpretation developed through two stage productions comprising more than forty performances. A favorite of the Metropolitan and New York City operas, she has performed and recorded a wide variety of 20th century music. Her association with the operas of Menotti, which began early in her career, includes The Saint of Bleecker Street, The Consul, and The Old Maid and the Thief.
As Monica, Miss Michaels reprises the role she played with great success in Chicago Opera Theater's 1992 production. The Chicago Sun-Times wrote, "Patrice Michaels Bedi offered a deft balance between innocence and knowledge. Her bright soprano was a ray of youthful sunlight."
The 1992 production, which likewise featured Miss Ragains in the role of Mrs. Gobineau, was the genesis for Cedille's recording, according to label producer James Ginsburg.
Produced by Ginsburg and recorded by Grammy award-winning engineer Lawrence Rock, Cedille's The Medium includes sound effects (gunshots, the cracking of a whip, and more) to aid the listener's imagination, in the tradition of radio drama. Ginsburg explains, "After the music was recorded, effects were added to emphasize events, gestures, and emotions, and to help create an atmosphere of dramatic immediacy." Scenes involving movement were blocked out and performed before an array of microphones for added realism, Ginsburg says.