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Israel News

Menotti’s ‘The Medium’ opera to be performed in Tel Aviv through May

CM 20/05/2021

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Operas are often the most dramatic of art forms. The tension-and-release element is central to many works, as covert lovers have to keep their ardor under wraps, jealous partners rage and the odd murder can also help to spice things up for the audience.

There is some of the above in The Medium, which is scheduled to be performed five times at the Israeli Opera in Tel Aviv from May 18 through to May 27. However, the two-act dramatic work by 20th-century Italian-American composer and librettist Gian Carlo Menotti packs even more suspense than the average operatic offering. The storyline takes in séances and, therefore, leapfrogging between reality and afterlife – imagined or actual – and, yes, some romantic intent, and a little in the way of tempestuous emotional passages. “The characters are very human,” notes the director, Shirit Lee Weiss. “And they have some intricate wonderful stories behind them.”
That may be so, but the members of the audience still have a bit of work to get through themselves. “We don’t really know where the characters come from, or what personal baggage they bring to the plot. But this is a very human experience, for everyone. And we can use our imagination to fill in the missing bits, if we want.”
There are three principal characters in the opera – Madam Flora, played by mezzo-soprano Shay Bloch, who earns a crust as a medium, her daughter Monica (soprano Tal Ganor) and Tobi, a mute who was taken in off the streets. There are also an equivalent number of attendees of Madame Flora’s séances. Even though the opera is only an hour long, shorter by some distance than regular operatic fare, it must still be a little limiting having one of the main characters not say a word throughout. After all, opera is basically a marriage of singing and acting.
While noting the demands made of the actor, Hanan Schwartzberg, Lee Weiss begs to differ. “It is very difficult to act a role like this. But I can do a lot of different things with him. It leaves a lot of freedom for maneuver.”
With such a small cast The Medium conveys a sense of intimacy. The personal ante is upped even further in the current offering, by the seating arrangements. “It is a different kind of experience than the normal one,” says the director. “Firstly the audience will be much smaller – around 250 people. And they will be seated on the stage. They will be guests, but far more involved guests,” she chuckles. “Your perspective on the onstage action is different. There is a different kind of energy, and the expectancy of what you are about to see.” It is, she says, an altogether alternative state of affairs, for all concerned. “Normally, for a full opera production, you have an orchestra and a choir, and all the rest. The members of the audience might be surprised by the scale of a chamber opera.”
The musical side of the production is being overseen by Yael Kareth, who also doubles as one of the two pianists who provide the instrumental underpinning for the vocal and thespian action, alongside Alexander Ivanov. “The pianos are very much part of the performance, and of the aesthetics,” says Lee Weiss. “There is the richness of their sound. But it is a different sound [compared with orchestral textures]. It is still an intimate sound, but rich.”
LEE WEISS has directed quite a few left-field projects over the past decade or so, including musicals, and various compact productions, so she is fully up for The Medium, audience proximity included. “There is a theatrical-cinematic quality to this work,” she observes. “And there is something dark to this opera.”

In the physical sense, naturally, the lighting designed by Eyal Levi Sharon will address that – par for the course for any staged offering. However, given the nature of the storyline, and the performer-audience logistics, that comes into play more than usual. And, of course, being so close up to the protagonists the patrons will be able to catch every vocal nuance and facial expression. Presumably, that puts the actor-singers under a little more pressure to do the business.
It won’t be just about the visuals, created by stage and costume designer Maya Meidar Moran. “There is musical accompaniment but there are no string instruments, and the sonic aspects are very concise and focused,” Lee Weiss continues, adding that the operatic developments and plot make for an even more cohesive thespian-viewer bond. “The audience will be drawn into the séance circle. They are seated around the stage, so there is a sense – an actual physical sense – of a ring, a closed ring. They are drawn into the story, and into the emotions that are expressed.”
The Medium is also notable for its seeming zeitgeist incongruity, in musical terms. “Menotti wrote it after World War II,” observes the director. As such, one might have expected the composer to have joined the bandwagon of his contemporaries who conveyed their, and the world’s, consternation and emotional maelstrom in the aftermath of the cataclysmic events of the previous six years. 
But the Italian-American bucked that strident atonal trend and went his own mellifluous way, while incorporating some of the weighty emotive ambience of the day. “There was a lot of avant-garde, and new sounds, coming out back then,” Lee Weiss continues. “Menotti stayed true to lyrical, dramatic tonalities and rhythmic sounds. But he wrote music for very intense dramas. He wrote very dramatic music, including for this work.” The Medium was created just one year after the end of the world war.
The heightened emotions and stormy goings-on in the plot are neatly counterbalanced by the crisply delineated designed crafted aesthetics. “The costumes are very precise. They are, in fact, pretty similar to the original costumes. There is something in our visual culture that demands that everything be in its rightful place, with the right dress, the right elegant high-heeled shoes.” Therein, Lee Weiss posits, lies a counterbalance to the general lay of the land. “You have all this elegance, in contemporary times too, which obscures all the catastrophe around us. You try to escape reality.” Sounds just a little too close to the current affairs bone to be taken in comfort.
Sitting up close to the onstage action the audience can look forward to a thoroughly absorbing operatic experience.
The Medium will be performed in Hebrew with English subtitles.

For tickets and more information: www.israel-opera.co.il

Source: Jerusalem Post

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