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The Medium / Satyricon

Gian Carlo Menotti 1911-2007
Bruno Maderna 1920-1973

The Medium

Tragedy in two acts. Libretto by the composer
First performance of revised edition February 18 1947, Heckscher Theatre, New York

Performed in English with German surtitles.


Opera in one act. Libretto by the composer based on Petronius' Satyricon (ca. 60 A.D.)
First performed March 16 1973, Circustheater, Scheveningen

Performed in various languages with German surtitles

Introduction, in German, in the Bockenheimer Depot 30 minutes before performances begin
Duration: ca. 2hrs 50 mins, including one interval

When Trimalchio invites people to supper he really pushes the boat out. A former slave who became incredibly rich, indulges in totally unashamed excess. His wife Fortunata, a wild, luxury-crazed woman, soon finds a toyboy among the guests, while the master of the house makes the most of his insatiability. Such gluttony with its life-embracing tastlessness cannot mask the transitory nature of an affluent society. Petronius' book of adventures, Satyricon, about a load of decadent Romans, is a kaleidoscope of erotic, villainous pranks and frivolous depravity. After Federico Fellini celebrated his great cinema comeback with his grotesque adaptation in 1969, the Italian avant garde composer and conductor Bruno Maderna soon followed suit, basing his last opera on »Cena Trimalchiones« - Trimalchione's Banquet! It consists of 16 autonomous numbers and 5 tapes, which can be performed in any order the interpretors choose, to develop their own form of his chamber opera. Maderna intended a to create something »political« by combining scenes from ancient Rome with the present day. The candour and freedom of his collage material extends to the music, with the introduction of Aleatorik - leaving things to chance – rolling the dice. His characters, like the composer, hatch out with strange feathers and language. Maderna's theatre experiment took leave from the idea of a fixed work and included quotes from very popular „classical works“ in his wild ride through music(theater)history - a commentary on the institution of opera.

Madame Flora, helped by her daydreaming daughter Monica and a mute orphan boy Toby, who harbours loving feelings for Monica, stages sceances, which earn her good money. Her clients are convinced that they are making contact with dead relatives through Flora. She doesn't believe in the supernatural – until one day when, out of nowhere, a cold hand clasps her neck. Flora, badly shaken, blames Toby and the tragedy takes its course... Gian Carlo Menotti's meeting with an English baroness, who regularly made „contact with her dead daughter“ shook the composer so deeply that he turned it into an opera, which was to bring about his international breakthrough – after Arturo Toscanini, whom Menotti invited to one of the first performances, became a great fan of the work. The Medium was performed about 200 times in 1947, in New York alone. Soon afterwards a commission came from Rome to make a film, which theatre enthusiast Menotti took in hand and which was very successful at the 1952 Cannes Festival. Critics often describe Menotti's musical language as “banal“ or „superficial“. The enormous popularity of the composer, and his being rooted in tradition, played into his hands. He objected to this calmly: „Tonality may not perhaps be necessary, but its dramatic function has still not been replaced by another medium. Like other writers and lyricists today, I prefer to use a »spoken language«.