by Eric Sweeney
The Secret Opera exemplifies the statement, “Opera is not dying–it is changing.” Run by three young women who recently graduated from University music programs, the company exists to give themselves and their colleagues opportunities to perform and hone their craft. Though they operate on a shoestring budget–and that is being generous–they are able to provide a satisfying evening of operatic entertainment and a respectable presentation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium.
The production was bare bones, yet effective, as the audience sits in the parlor of Madam Flora, the large voiced and often terrifying Milica Nikcevic, as she swindles grieving parents hoping to speak to their children on the other side. Mr. Gobineu, young lyric baritone Matthew Walsh with a small but even and pleasant voice, and his wife, Mrs. Gobineau, Elsie Brancheau, are regular customers. The newcomer is Mrs. Nolan, the rich-voiced mezzo Melissa Serluco, who demonstrates how a grieving parent can go from a skeptic to true-believer in a matter of moments.
The heaviest dramatic and musical burden of The Medium falls on Monica, Madam Flora’s daughter, played by an excellent Chelsea Feltman whose warm golden voice was at times also eerie and straight toned. The Black Swan duet with Nikcevic was particularly splendid. Feltman’s performance was spritely and haunting. Monica’s love interest Toby, Kellan Cupid in a mute yet moving performance, is Madam Flora’s servant. The casting of a high school student is a little awkward as the story suggests a sexual connection between the two.
Maestro Dmitry Glivinskiy leads his singers in a musically superb performance while he brings a whole orchestra to life using his piano.
Menotti, a favorite for young opera singers though mostly neglected by major companies, is arguably one of the most prolific composers of American Opera in the 20th century having written over 25 operas in his lifetime. Because many were written for TV, they pose challenges for live staging. Director Annie Rutherford Lutz elicits several electrifying moments from her actors, but her staging remains pedestrian and traditional. Lutz’s staging answers all the questions the opera poses–are spirits real? are they trying to communicated with us?–though Menotti meant for these troubling questions to be left to the audience.
The Secret Opera carries the torch of opera capably into the future.