Florida Opera Theatre, the company that sprung up to fill the gap after the demise of Orlando Opera, has started small with its first fully staged show.
But the professional sheen that emanates from this production of "The Medium" should have opera lovers eager to see what Florida Opera Theatre can do as it sets its sights on bigger goals.
Artistic director Frank McClain has fashioned a nifty intimate world that feels even more confining at the Orlando Repertory Theatre's small black-box theater. That space allows the audience to feel more connected to the action in the decidedly off-kilter household of "Baba," who scrounges a living by holding fake séances as "Madame Flora."
"The Medium," written in 1946 by Gian Carlo Menotti, is an odd little product of its time. With the devastation of World War II fresh in everyone's minds, people were unsettled, looking for answers, desperate to believe in something — even voices from beyond.
Madame Flora (Susan Neves) preys on such desperate, gullible people, aided by Toby, a mute boy (David Grindrod) and her daughter Monica (Shannon Jennings). But then, Madame has an unnerving experience that leads her to question what's happening on the other side.
Roughly an hour in length, "The Medium" tells its story without a lot of fussy subplots. That frees the mind to focus on the music. It's a jangly, discordant score, full of dissonant piano chords and mysteriously tinkling arpeggios. Robin Stamper gives the Steinway grand piano an impressive workout.
The vocalists are precise with their entries and cut-offs — critical as the show is sung in English. Curiously, the English words sometimes work against the show; as it tries to conjure an otherworldly sensation, the English lyrics can sound banal.
But Jennings, as Monica, has a lovely lilting voice that tugs at the heartstrings on "Mommy, mommy dear…" and lights up the room with her fanciful "Monica, Monica, dance the waltz…"
Neves has less traditionally tuneful music, but can switch emotional gears from volcanic anger to desperate pleading on a dime. Her most powerful angry notes match the fire in her eyes.
The other singers — Brett Reilly Turner, Samantha Barnes and Johanna Nordhorn — blend nicely and add a touch of menace as they intone "But why be afraid… afraid of our dead."
As the mute, Grindrod uses puppy-dog eyes and nervous energy to ably inspire the audience's sympathy.
As for Florida Opera Theatre's bigger goals, the group will next team with Vero Beach Opera and First Coast Opera, St. Augustine, for Rossini's "Il Barbiere di Siviglia (The Barber of Seville)." That show runs longer, employs more than one set and has more singing roles. The strengths of "The Medium" — casting, production values, vocal quality — instill confidence that Florida Opera Theatre is ready to tackle it.
firstname.lastname@example.org or 407-420-5038
•What: 'The Medium,' by Gian Carlo Menotti, from Florida Opera Theatre
•Length: 1:05, no intermission
•When: 2:30 p.m. today, Sunday, Dec. 4
•Where: Orlando Repertory Theatre, 1001 E. Princeton St., Orlando
•Call: 407-896-7365Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times