Kristen Dragotto, A&E Editor & Connor Watson, Contributing Writer
The University of Missouri–St Louis’ Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center hosted the opera “The Medium.” The opera was directed by Stella Markou who is the University’s Director of Vocal Studies and Opera Theatre.
“The Medium” tells the story of a medium named Madame Flora and her two children, Toby (a mute) and Monica – her biological daughter. Her business is conning customers into believing they are communicating with the dead, when in reality it’s only Monica they are hearing.
After a frightful encounter with what she felt was a hand around her throat, Madame Flora begins to lose her grip on reality. She throws out Toby, who she suspects grabbed her, and later drinks herself to sleep. When Toby attempts to come home, she is awakened and mistakenly shoots him.
The opera was electrifying in terms of the vocal and physical performances. Performer Emese Mattingly, who played Madame Flora, had a commanding stage presence marked by powerful vocals. Alayna Epps, who played Monica, sung two notable arias and sparked emotion in each note truly fulfilling her role as the embodiment of love.
Making his UMSL Operatic debut was Jordan Carr, sophomore, music FAC BA. Carr played the role of Toby the mute boy. This role did not require any vocals, so Carr displayed his physical acting ability rather than vocal. He made use of facial expressions and body language to display emotion leaving the audience haunted by his presence onstage.
“The Medium” was an experience of emotional exhaustion and suspense. The opera combined a haunting musical score and powerful vocals to create a sense of the supernatural. The lighting also played a role in the overall visual experience — a red light was used during scenes of abuse from Madame Flora.
The opera focuses heavily on the darker side of humanity. Lead actor Carr gave a statement acknowledging this in which he said, “It is a very dark show. However, I think anyone who sees the show will leave feeling differently about many beliefs and issues.”
The scenes of abuse from Madame Flora toward Toby and the nature of a seance and the supernatural are dark subjects that can be disheartening to some. “‘The Medium’ despite its dark nature is still a story of hope that a kind and generous spirit can prevail even in darkness,” Markou stated in reference to the love that grows between Monica and Toby despite Toby’s muteness.
Markou stayed true to the score in its subject matter and performance, she made one directorial change that left a striking impression. She added the appearance of spirits that were present throughout the entire performance, reacting to the what was taking place onstage.
What was most powerful about their performance was their ability to give the audience such emotion by their reaction to what took place onstage. When Toby is abused onstage the spirits turn away from the actors, sending an impactful message about violence. The only time the spirits left their positions was during the death of Toby – giving him one of their masks to signify that he had passed on.
“The Medium” is an excellent opera that makes one think about their views on matters like the afterlife and supernatural. Its dark subject matter borders the edges of uneasiness, and the pinnacle of that is the death scene of Toby. During Toby’s death scene the sound effect of a real gun was used; therefore, making the reality of the opera abundantly clear.
The opera also has moments of happiness like hope prevailing through darkness, and that those who are not with us are never truly gone. Those moments speak to the audience and encourage us to never lose sight of those we love and cherish.
“Something I would like to say as a director and performer of the arts is to give different arts a chance. You don’t know what speaks to you and what will resonate with you until you experience it,” said Markou. Encouraging UMSL students to explore the art scene at the university itself, because, like “The Medium,” a moment of hope comes in all forms — even a mute one.