The opening night performance of Long Leaf Opera's last offering of the current season, Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium (1946, rev. 1947) was on April 25 in the University Theatre of NCCU. It impressed this reviewer as the best of the company's efforts to date, other than last Christmas season's fine production of the same composer's Amahl and the Night Visitors (but that is a special and different sort of piece), and he has seen all of the company's productions.
The work is an approximately hour-long two-act "tragedy" using a single set, so it could be performed without the 15-minute intermission that separated the acts for this presentation; this might, in fact, heighten the drama. Or would "melodrama" perhaps be a more accurate term to describe the story? Baba is autocratic and controlling and does not approve of Toby, most certainly not as a mate for her daughter Monica. She's also a scheming phony, using the young couple as accomplices, not to say props, in her money-making séance activities, which go seriously awry when something unexpected happens, and end tragically when she takes too heavily to the bottle to cope with her resulting doubts and insecurities.
The roles were well cast. Litz Plummer truly inhabited the title character, Madam Flora (Baba), and in many ways stole the show. Mary Kathryn Walston did well with the role of the dreamy Monica, who creates a fantasy world to escape the unhappiness of her real one, and Stephen Marquez played the role of Toby, the mute Gypsy-a conceit in an opera if there ever was one-quite sensitively, doing an excellent job with the mime and the dance. The three secondary characters, Mr. and Mrs. Gobineau and Mrs. Nolan, were played by Robert Weston, Ariel Reed, and Evelyn McCauley respectively. They were well nuanced, especially in view of their limited contributions to the action and presence on stage.
The singing was generally excellent. Diction and enunciation were clear throughout the evening, with Reed's being the weakest in some occasional lines, though it was by no means poor. All voices projected well, without any one of them overpowering either the others (except when the story called for it) or the hall. Walston's voice seemed to carry the least well in the first act, but she did much better in the second, giving there a stunning opening aria that inspired spontaneous applause from the audience, the sole individual aria to do so. The scene is really a duet with the silent Toby and includes the aforementioned dance; the whole was particularly well realized.
Like the singing, the acting was good throughout. Movements and gestures were natural and appropriate for the characters. This was not a static cast, and again Plummer stole the show with actions in the second act that appropriately verged on the histrionic without going overboard.
The set, designed by Kali McPherson and Doris Schneider, was well conceived to use the very limited stage space to the greatest extent and best advantage possible. It adequately evoked a modest late-Victorian sort of parlor/dining room. The costumes, designed by Olive McKrell and artistic director Randolph Umberger, were particularly well done, attractive and well suited both to the characters and to the wearers.
The 13-member orchestra under the baton of Benjamin Keaton accompanied the singers remarkably well, although the first notes of its solo moments-the pieces (each 31 measures long) can hardly be referred to as overtures-at the opening of both acts were not together. It was as if the musicians were nervous when they were alone and exposed, so they flubbed up, but did just fine when they receded into the background to provide support for the singers.
This was an enjoyable evening, not as light as viewing a performance of Noel Coward's Blythe Spirit, dating from roughly the same period (1942) and dealing with similar subject matter, and of which I have 40+ year-old memories of a high school production, would be, but entertaining nevertheless. Remaining performances are April 27 at 8:00 p.m. and April 28 at 3:00 p.m.. See our calendar for details and take one in. This is yet another local group - this one fairly young - that gets better and better every time I see and hear it.