BY JOHN FLEMING
Times Performing Arts Critic
Many people unfamiliar with opera know the work of Gian Carlo Menotti because he composed Amahl and the Night Visitors, which debuted on Christmas Eve 1951 in an NBC broadcast and became a seasonal staple on TV and in stage productions. Menotti wrote other operas — as well as founded the Spoleto arts festival in Charleston, S.C. — and now St. Petersburg Opera is presenting one of them, The Medium.
"It's a fascinating piece," said Mark Sforzini, artistic director of the opera who is both conducting the 14-musician orchestra and stage directing for two performances this weekend at the Palladium Theater. "It has six people in the cast. No chorus. It's short and a reduced story."
Menotti's one-act opera, which runs just over an hour, is what the composer described as "a play of ideas (that) describes the tragedy of a woman caught between two worlds, a word of reality which she cannot comprehend and a supernatural world in which she cannot believe."
Mezzo-soprano Melissa Misener plays a fraudulent psychic named Madame Flora, or "Baba," and soprano Stefanie Izzo is her daughter, Monica. "Baba makes money by having these fake seances, and her daughter helps to rig them," Sforzini said. "It's a great thing to watch on stage with a seance built into the opera with voices coming from the other side."
In the other roles, Chris Romeo plays Toby, a mute servant taken in by Baba, Rim Karnavicius and Michelle Rego are the regular clients Mr. and Mrs. Gobineau (the singers are husband and wife in real life), and Mindy Mabry is Mrs. Nolan, a widow seeking to make contact with her dead daughter.
Monica has the opera's best-known aria, The Black Swan, a kind of occult lullaby sung to soothe her mother. "Monica also sings a waltz about the love between her and Toby, and Madame Flora, who is an alcoholic, has a mad scene, Afraid, am I afraid, which is a six-minute tour de force," Sforzini said.
The Medium is the opera company's first production pegged to the annual Gay Pride celebration in St. Petersburg. The connection is that Menotti, who died in 2007, was gay, as more than a few other opera and musical theater composers have been, such as Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber (Menotti's partner), Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim.
"The Pride festival brings in something like 100,000 people, and we like the idea of coordinating with it," Sforzini said. "We're starting out on a smaller scale with The Medium, but next year we'll have a big production of West Side Story. The Britten operas, like A Midsummer Night's Dream and Albert Herring, are especially appealing to me."
John Fleming can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8716.