In its upcoming show, the Yale Cabaret will incorporate the world of opera into a story about learning to cope with loss and grief.
“The Medium,” an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, opens tomorrow night at the Cab. The opera is set in the house of a fake spirit medium named Madame Flora, who earns a living by tricking clients into thinking that they are communicating with their dead relatives. The show’s director, Anh Marie Le DRA ’15, said the production highlights the emotional themes in the play over the visual intrigue of the tricks that Madame Flora employs.
“We thought about adding a bunch of tricks, but we decided that ultimately they’d be distracting and maybe even be too convincing and making the séance feel really real” Le said. “We were more interested in making it clear that the séance is mostly substantiated through desire and grief and not so much through sleight of hand.”
Le highlighted the show’s portrayal of characters that undergo the various stages of grief. She noted that the production primarily emphasizes the theme of searching for answers amidst the loss of loved ones.
Set in 1920s Europe, the opera follows Madame Flora, her clients Mr. and Mrs. Gobineau, and the widow Mrs. Nolan. The Gobineaus lost their son a long time ago, while Mrs. Nolan only recently lost her daughter, which causes her a great deal of grief. A parallel story in the opera also follows the romance between Madame Flora’s daughter Monica and the mute servant boy Toby.
Le noted that her initial intention was to bring an opera to the Cab that would fit the requirements of the venue’s atmosphere — a piece that has a small cast and lasts for roughly one hour, as well as one that presents opera as an approachable and engaging means of artistic expression.
“The Cab audiences are so brave and adventurous and so used to seeing different things in that space every week that I think it’s the perfect audience to see this, because people come in there with very little expectations,” Le said. “Not in a bad way, but just they are willing to follow along whatever story there is, and I think that is the perfect atmosphere to have for something like this.”
Yale School of Music professor Janna Baty, who plays Madame Flora, noted that the rehearsal process was a challenging one given the intimacy and space limitations of the Cab’s stage. Lynda Paul DRA ’17, who plays Monica, added that because of this intimacy, the actors cannot rely on elements that are present in most opera productions, such as large stages and live orchestras.
José Sabín Lestayo GRD ’18, who plays Toby, said that while his role does not contain any singing parts, he must still take his acting cues from the show’s music sequence. Music director and pianist Jill Brunelle added that another challenge for the ensemble was the task of using a single piano to create the musical effects in the place of a more traditional full orchestra.
“We have to leave some things out,” Brunelle said. “But when I play I don’t really hear piano. I hear the orchestra part, and hopefully that means that people who are hearing me play the piano hear something more as well.”
Performances of “The Medium” run through Saturday.