The Medium

From left to right: Emma Pattel, Grace Hakala and Jadelyn Beukeboom singing onstage at the alumni and student-run production of The Medium.

Walking into First-St. Andrew's United Church on Queens Avenue last Friday night, attendees were greeted by an eerie silence in the pews. 

This past weekend, the Can of Soup Collective — a student and alumni-run opera collective aiming to make opera more accessible to the London community — premiered Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Medium, an hour-long opera featuring seances, death and hauntings.  

“[Opera] doesn't feel approachable,” said Mabel Wonnacott, creative director of Can of Soup and a master’s of music student at Western University. “A big point for us is community engagement, education about why opera is important and making it more approachable.”

As 6:30 p.m. rolled around, a costumed actor dimmed the lights of the church. A stage light was projected onto the chancel and a striking chord on the piano echoed through the church. 

Madam Flora, also known as Baba, is a respected mystic who tricks clients desperate to speak to their dead children with help from her daughter Monica and her ward Lucy. During a seance, Madam Flora perceives a supernatural presence and is forced to come face to face with her greatest fears. 

Jadelyn Beukeboom, a Western  master’s student in music, played the starring role of Baba. Baba’s daughter, Monica, was sung by Emma Battel, a recent  bachelor of music alumnus.  

Ellita Gagner, Can of Soup’s administrative coordinator and another recent music graduate, directed the production changing the way Baba is typically perceived. 

“I watched a lot of productions and noticed how one-dimensional the character Baba was.  She's always the villain and irredeemable,” said Gagner. “I thought it would be interesting to delve into her story and why she is the way that she is. Our production is The Medium, but entirely from the perspective of Baba.” 

The production was an interactive experience, with the aisle seats only meters away from the action of the multi-level stage on the altar of First-St. Andrew’s. Monica and Lucy scurrying back and forth from offstage to onstage could be felt in the audience’s seats, heightening the anxiety of the show.  

From an auditory point of view, the trained singers’ operative voices filled the church’s tall ceilings. Their voices soared to uncanny decibels and helped shape the characters’ dispositions. The story was elevated with the piano accompaniment  played by Can of Soup’s music coordinator and music graduate Brian Cho. 

The opera closed with a heart-breaking death scene and an ominous piano accompaniment. The bewildered buzz from the audience exiting the pews indicated the production’s success. 

Wonnacott is proud of the production and hopes the London community will continue to support Can of Soup as they open up the world of opera to the Forest City.

“The wider community loves to come and support Western opera. With the pandemic, that's been something that everyone's been missing a lot,” said Wonnacott.

The collective debuted their first operatic performance last August with the Music in The Park showcase, bringing classical repertoire to London at the Wonderland Garden Bandshell at Springbank Gardens.

For future updates from Can of Soup, check out their Instagram and Facebook pages.

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