The Florida Opera Theater has come up with the brilliant idea of staging "The Medium" in a gorgeous Orlando mansion. This exclusive production was by invitation only. I drove around an upscale part of Winter Park in the evening searching for house numbers. My GPS on my cell phone showed where the mansion was but I drove up and down the street many times as I hunted. I finally went down a tiny unmarked one lane road that cut in towards a lake. At the end of the road was a large iron gateway and the number I was seeking was on a mail box. The long driveway lead to a circular turn around where the actors cars were parked. I opened a courtyard entry gate and walked toward the immense mansion. Warm light spilled out of the cut glass of the front door. Water cascaded down a series of steps of a fountain that ran the length of the walkway. I rang the doorbell and tested the knob. It was open. The entryway opened up into a vast vaulted ceiling where a large chandelier hung. The opera was being staged in this grand space. A second floor balcony looked down on the set. Folding chairs were set up around the edges of the room.
Director, Frank McCain, welcomed me. The last production I had seen him in was, "War of the Worlds". Susan Neves as "Baba" and Shannon Jennings as Monica were standing near the grand piano played by Robin Stamper. Scenes were rehearsed out of order, but for once, I knew the storyline since I had done my research when I did the illustration for the program. In one scene, Baba wanted to force Toby, played by David Grindrod, to leave. Monica defended him saying he needed them. She was instructed to grab Baba's arm in the argument. In the heat of the moment, she grabbed the wrong hand and Baba shouted in pain. This wasn't in the opera, Susan was in real pain. A previous accident had resulted in a broken clavicle and now her twisted arm had pinched a nerve. Shannon apologized and hugged her. Luckily it was a minor incident. The show must go on. In an other scene Susan had to take a swig of alcohol and she choked because she had just been singing and it went down the wrong pipe. It wasn't really alcohol.
Frank pulled a starter's pistol from out of a drawer on set. He let everyone know it wasn't real and that they wouldn't fire the caps until the next evening's rehearsal. He told Susan she should never point it towards the audience. It looked very real. In such an intimate setting, I could imagine people diving for the floor if she did. In a later scene she pointed the gun towards the puppet theater where Toby was hiding. She threatened to shoot and when she did, she said, "Pichoo, Pichooo!" In a dramatic moment of shock and horror, she dropped the gun to the floor. It burst into a dozen pieces. "Oh God! I'm so sorry!" she shouted. Once again real life drama seeped into the rehearsal. Frank and Bobbie Demme San-Filippo, the props master, struggled to put the gun back together.
Shannon was enchanting as she performed "Monica's Waltz". I knew I needed to return to sketch her as she sang "Black Swan" which was absolutely haunting and would make a great sketch. Susan Neves roll as Baba was very physical and exhausting. After a full run through she was spent. She searched for a cookie for a quick sugar rush. Samantha Barnes sang off stage as the voice of the dead. She found the best spot to sing was from was an upstairs bathroom which gave her vocals a haunted echo. Being so close to the cast as they sang and performed was exhilarating. This idea of bringing opera to intimate settings was pure genius. This promises to be a show that will make the hair stand straight up on your arms.