The Medium | Opera House Halle | Germany

Bettina John’s design approach suit the rich and avantgarde, sometimes outrageous opera design especially found in Europe. For “The Medium” by Menotti she designed set and costumes.

About the opera

Not quite following the script of Menotti’s ‘The Medium’, the director Philine Tietzel (Berlin) interpreted the adopted teenage son Toby as ‘the medium’ itself. Its omnipresence effects everybody in the story yet he appears invisible to them. This interpretation of the script leaves the audience with even more questions than the original. Those questions are not least representative of society’s stance on spirituality. This story is a wonderful starting point for a surreal design, embraced fully by Bettina John.

Design approach

Bettina John’s design lend to opera design with its surreal character and charicature depiction of people. Her opulent and sometimes outrageous design find an appropriate outlet in the genre. For this opera inspiration came from Seances held in the 20’s and 30’s of the last century. For Toby, who symbolizes the medium itself in this production Bettina John looked into tribal costume and costumes worn for rituals around the world. Another source of inspiration was the film noir. Menotti himself was inspired by it.


Madame Flora, with the help of her daughter Monica and Toby, a mute servant, tries to cheat her clients through faked seances. She is touched herself by a hand during one of them, an occurrence she cannot explain and which drives her to insanity and murder. (A two act opera.) Gian Carlo Menotti was inspired to write and compose The Medium after attending a séance in the small town of St. Wolfgang (near Salzburg, Austria) in 1936. The composer wrote about how the powerful desire to communicate with lost loved ones inspired him: “It gradually became clear to me that my hosts, in their pathetic desire to believe, actually saw and heard their dead daughter Doodly (a name, incidentally, which I have retained in the opera). It was I, not they, who felt cheated.”

Photographs Jaime Leme

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Opera Design Medium Menotti Germany Opera Design Medium Menotti Germany