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The Playgoer

At the Simbert


Gian-Carlo Menotti, a young Italian-born composer, having written, composed, and directed "The Medium" and "The Telephone," is personally responsible for one of the most striking evenings the theatre has offered in recent years. The entire production--the same as the one that spent the summer on Broadway--reflects the vitality and originality of the composer, and both of the one-act operas extend the horizons of the musical theatre in America.

"The Telephone," a short, comic curtain-raiser, opens the evening lightly and pleasantly. "The Medium," on the other hand, is a complete musical-dramatic synthesis which absorbs its audiences as few plays or concerts ever could. The story is a fascinating study of a fake medium who goes mad when the spirits she produces mechanically for her seances begin to appear unasked. The opera in Menotti's hands and those of the Ballet Society is far more than the usual Metropolitan parade of dummies with voices; Menotti probes far into the characters of the degenerate medium, her mute servant and kind daughter, and the pathetic customers who make the seance an unforgettable scene.

Menotti's music is as remarkable as his dramatic talents. "The Medium" is by no means revolutionary or even experimental in form like "Four Saints" or "Mother of Us All," but the music is exactly right--no more nor less--for its frightening story. Menotti is a composer who can be described only as appealing: his music uses modern devices, manages to attract the listener without letting him out of the grip of the opera in toto. He uses chiefly a semi-recitative style, but he proves conclusively his ability to write an aria with an exceptionally lovely song which he gives the daughter near the close of the first act.

All of the singers in "The Medium" are actors also, with Marie Powers contributing a particularly fine bit as the spiritualist. The staging is unusual, with an cerie touch in the last act that has to be seen. On both these counts the very thought of the Metropolitan doing the opera is foolish, for the necessity of using old costumes and old settings and that unique operatic brand of acting on the huge Met stage would spoil Menotti's work.

Critics have been railing at the Metropolitan Opera for ages countless for not putting on worthwhile modern works, but in their attacks they have failed to consider a potent question: is the Met fit to present any opera except the 19th century warhorses on which it concentrates? To this operagoer, anyway, the current production of "The Medium" answers that question with a strong negative.

Perhaps, therefore, the future of modern opera lies on the stage and not in the old opera houses, which will still supply the voices and the size and the glamour for Mozart, Verdi, Wagner, and their lessers. The composers seem to be aiming in that direction, for Benjamin Britten, as well as Menetti, has written operas for chamber orchestras and small cast. Britten's second, "The Rape of Lueretia," was on the Chicago stage last season. If it lands in a Broadway theatre with success equal to that of "The Medium" it will prove that Meuotti's work is more than a happy accident in musical history. It will be permanent good news for the opera and the theatre.

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