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The Medium and The Telephone

At Agassiz

By Thomas K. Schwabacher

The first production of new theatrical groups all too often are, at best, promising. But the newly formed Dunster House Music and Drama Society is an exception. With its production of two operas by Gian-Carlo Menotti, this group has very definitely arrived. From every point of view--singing, acting, staging--The Medium, main feature of the evening, is a superlative theatrical experience. And The Telephone, the curtain-raiser which precedes it, makes a very pleasant comic aperitif.

The description of The Medium as "theatrical" has been chosen with care. Although very decidedly operatic, this work is not an opera in the grand manner. While all dialogue is sung, most of it is in prose, and the music generally serves to underline rather than to support the overall effect. This effect is a somber one, ultimately rising to tragic import.

The story which the opera tells so effectively concerns a fake spiritualist, her young daughter, and a mute boy who acts as their helper in the phony seances. During one such session, the medium discovers to her horror that she does indeed possess supernatural powers. But since she is unable to face the fact she fixes on the boy, blames him for tricking her, and drives him away. He, however, returns unseen, with inevitable tragic results.

The two principal singers, Jo Linch as the medium and Barbara Blanchard as her daughter, contribute performances quite astonishing for their power and surety. Miss Linch's voice, while never becoming harsh, possesses just the right quality to project the rather angular music which Menotti has written to depict the spiritualist's descent into horror. And Miss Blanchard, whose singing carries a lovely, lyrical quality did not faulter for a moment even in the highest passages. Her rendition of the ballad-like piece which opens the opera was entirely captivating. Both young women, furthermore, are not only fine singers but actresses of the first caliber. Under the very intelligent direction of Bruce MacDonald, neither at any time resorted to the discouraging opera-singer's stance.

The part of the mute boy, Toby, was written for a performer who must combine the abilities of dancer and mime. Eugene Gervasi distinguishes himself in both capacities. He quite brilliantly manages to make his body and hands express the boy's desperate eagerness to speak, and, what is perhaps more difficult, project his love for the medium's daughter.

The three principals are supported by Peggy Lapsley, Walter Farnham, and Eleanor Mayher, who play loyal believers in the medium's powers. Music Director Bernard E. Kreger has ably welded them into a clear, understandable ensemble, and all three, but particularly Miss Lapsley, perform with distinction.

The introductory work, The Telephone, is a decidedly slight but pleasant little opera buffa which relates a young man's troubles in proposing to his girl. She, it appears, would rather talk into the phone than to him. Peggy Lapsley sings the role of the communicative young lady and Bruce MacDonald comes onstage to play the man. Though Miss Lapsley has a little difficulty in negotiating some of the higher notes, both, on the whole, are more than acceptable.

The Dunster society has proven itself a valuable addition to the University's theater and music groups.

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