The Telephone and The Medium

UoT Opera’s fall production opened last night at the MacMillan theatre.  It’s a double bill of Menotti works; The Telephone and The Medium.  The former was cleverly updated by Michael Patrick Albano to reflect the age of the smartphone.  It actually seems more relevant than ever and, slight as it is – an extended joke about a girl who won’t get off the phone long enough for her fiancé to propose – it was wryly amusing. The Medium I’m not so sure about.  It’s a contrived piece written in the 1940’s but set a few years earlier about a fake medium and her deluded clients.  It seems dated, not so much in the sense that seance attendance is pretty unusual today, but in the extent to which the characters are clichéd, cardboard cut outs even.  The medium herself is bad enough but her sidekicks are her rather dippy, if kind, daughter and a boy who is mute (k’ching), Gypsy (k’ching) and “found wandering the streets” (k’ching, k’ching) “of Budapest” (k’ching, k’ching, k’ching).  The first act in which the fake seancery goes on isn’t bad but then the medium gets a shock; a real or imagined cold hand on her throat (probably imagined as she is a raging alcoholic) and decides to go straight.  The second act is pure bathos.  I can see why it was a Broadway hit in the 1940s but I think tastes have moved on.  And who the heck calls their daughter “Doodly”?

mediumThe realisation of the pieces was pretty good though.  Albano set The Telephone in a coffee shop with the various supernumerary characters reflecting the sort of characters one might see; expensive shopping, construction workers and skate boards all in evidence.  The central pair were ably sung by Caitlin McCaughey and Max van Wyck.  The latter produced a suitably exasperated air throughout while Ms. McCaughey was convincingly air-headed.  I don’t think it’s the most difficult or technical sing but both singers were pleasing to listen to and characterised well.

The Medium appeared to be set in a New York tenement in maybe the 1930s.  Anna Theodosakis’ production was fairly straightforward but effective with the interior/exterior comings and goings of the characters quite cleverly portrayed and the fake seancery fake enough, but not too fake.  Megan Quick managed the part of Madame Flora  (the medium) rather well.  There probably aren’t too many approaches one can take to playing an alcoholic, Hungarian, fake medium and not overacting is probably the way to go.  I liked her somewhat dark mezzo too though I don’t think this is music that shows the voice off much.  Danika Lorèn was the daughter, Monica.  I liked her performance.  She has quite a big, bright soprano and managed a decent range of moods including, of course, the ghost impersonation stuff.  Daniel Robinson, as the mute, Toby, did not, of course, sing but his physical acting was very good indeed.  Camille Rogers, Adam Harris and Kristina Agur were straightforwardly competent as the deluded clients.

Both pieces were accompanied by a chamber orchestra.  It’s curiously dense music with plenty of colour but not much sense of direction.  The band played it well and Sandra Horst did a fine job of bringing out the textures and generally keeping everything on track.

I don’t think I’m ever going to be a big fan of Menotti but, if one wants to see these works, the UoT production and performances do them justice.  As usual with UoT there are two completely different casts in play.  The one reviewed here can be seen again on Saturday night.  Tonight and Sunday afternoon the other cast is in action.  I almost (almost!) want to see it as Lyndsay Promane and Andrea Lett are likely to be quite a contrast to Megan Quick and Danika Lorèn.

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2 thoughts on “The Telephone and The Medium

  1. Hi John,
    First, thanks for the fach shout out from Centre Stage. I appreciate the solidarity 🙂
    Second, I hate (but do I really hate it?) to be an armchair Baba, but having done the Medium, allow me to tell you who the heck Doddly is 🙂
    Menotti was attending a seance at a friends’ residence near Salzburg in 1936 where they had an encounter with their deceased daughter, Doodly. Menotti went in a skeptic, and while he maintained that nothing supernatural occurred at that seance, he paid witness to the great faith of his friends, inspiring him to write the Medium, almost a decade later. I think the Medium brings us great questions about faith, family, and the dimensions of our own reality. Perhaps on the hokey side, granted, as Menotti wasn’t a native English speaker, but I believe the Medium is not as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Just my two cents, of course 🙂
    All the best,
    Sam

    • Thanks for the background! I knew Menotti had written the piece after attending a seance. I didn’t know there was a “for real” Doodly. Still who calls their daughter “Doodly”? The sort of people who go to seances I guess!

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