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A Spirited Double Bill: 'The Medium' and 'Emilie' from Spoleto USA

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You may well remember the 1991 movie megahit ghost. It featured Whoopi Goldberg as a phony psychic who's surprised when she truly is contacted by the spirit world, and Maurice Jarre's spooky music for the film earned him an Oscar nomination. But did you know that 40 years earlier another well-known composer wrote Oscar-nominated music for a movie with the same plot twist? And that he also directed the film?

At first, it might seem unusual for a composer to direct a movie that he also wrote the music for, but in that particular case it was only natural. The composer was the multi-talented Gian Carlo Menotti, who based his film on The Medium, an opera for which he wrote both the music and the libretto back in the mid 1940s.

The title character in Menotti's opera is Madame Flora, who makes her living by convincing gullible people that she's in contact with the spirits of their dead loved ones. She actually does nothing of the sort, and she's terrified when she thinks one of her staged séances has summoned up an actual ghost.

Menotti had written a couple of previous operas, but it was The Medium that first put him on the operatic map. After a successful premiere at Columbia University the show was also a hit on Broadway, where it ran for more than 200 performances starting in 1946. That was followed by the movie version, and Menotti's Academy Award nomination in 1953, making The Medium a true, theatrical triple threat.

On World of Opera, host Lisa Simeone presents The Medium in a performance from the 2011 Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston, S.C. It's presented at the historic Dock Street Theatre, in a performance featuring mezzo-soprano Barbara Dever in the title role.

This week's double bill from Charleston also includes an American premiere from the Spoleto Festival USA. It's the mesmerizing, one-woman opera Émilie, by the acclaimed Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho.

That drama's single character is based on the real-life, historical figure Émilie du Chatelet, an 18th-century French woman who's still famous today as a mathematician, physicist and writer. The opera conveys her troubled reflections during what turn out to be the final days of her life, at the start of what should have been the prime of her career. Émilie is portrayed in a stunning, tour-de-force performance by the brilliant American soprano Elizabeth Futral.

The Medium is co-produced by: wdavorg200x65and   etv-sc-radio-200