OPERA AND POLITICS: SCO’S “THE CONSUL”
By: Hal de Becker
Photos: Jeannie Hardy
Sin City Opera presented a splendid professional production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul performed in English by outstanding professional singers at Winchester Cultural Center.
The opera had its premiere in 1950 during the Cold War and the McCarthy witch hunts. The libretto, by the composer, was, especially at that period, a brave indictment of totalitarianism of any kind, anywhere. It’s likely that McCarthy and his ilk were not pleased when the opera received a Pulitzer Prize.
Menotti’s ‘Amahl and the Night Visitors’ and the darkly dramatic ‘The Medium’ may be more familiar works, but musically and politically given today’s headlines The Consul remains an important and rewarding work.
The plot is a grim depiction of a Kafkaesque bureaucracy where citizens’ desires are effectively obstructed through a delaying process of endless paperwork. The tactic is intended to keep the people believing that their wishes may be granted while actually it is denial in disguise.
Magda, the opera’s central figure, when faced with the death of her baby, her doomed husband a prisoner, his mother mortally ill and her every hope frustrated by more forms and applications, is driven to suicide.
Marcie Ley’s powerful portrayal succeeded at all levels of the role’s vocal, dramatic and emotional demands. Especially thrilling was her Act II denunciation of the regime, but in truth her entire performance was memorable and thrilling.
Erin Gonzales as the Consul’s Secretary sang well and was convincing in her gradual transition from heartless bureaucrat to sensitive accomplice trying to help Magda.
With stylish flourish Alex Rodin Mendoza was outstanding as the cabaret Magician whose sleight-of-hand-‘magic’ provides a diversion for the other petitioners in the Consul’s waiting room. And when he hypnotizes them into believing they are waltzing in a lavish ballroom they enjoy a brief escape from the reality of their drab lives and surroundings.
The Secretary, who until then has been indifferent to their appeals, now reacts with alarm and their cheerful, spirited movements awaken her guilty fears of a revolutionary mob.
In a polished performance as the Mother, Rebecca Morris’s range moved easily from a soothing lullaby for Magda’s baby to rage at the police pursuing her son, John.
Simon Relph, as John, overacted and his voice was thin, at least at the performance I attended. Nathan Van Arsdale brought a terrifying sense of subdued menace to his characterization of the Secret Police Agent and Christopher Garcia was convincing as the compassionate Mr. Kofner trying to be helpful to other waiting applicants.
Casey Dakus, Jade lin Hornbaker and Casey Gardner gave pleasing and affecting performances as suppliants in the Consul’s office. Eric Sepulveda was fine as John’s friend.
Despite some instrumental chatter early in Act I, Menotti’s score has many telling, often beautiful passages, and SCO’s chamber orchestra under the baton of Jack Gaughan, brought them all to life. Maestro Gaughan also did the skilled arrangements.
Unfortunately, Winchester does not have an orchestra pit (few intimate, multi-purpose venues do) and with the orchestra situated in front of the proscenium and some of the instruments at about the same level as the low stage, the singers’ spoken lines were often drowned out.
Most of the artists possessed excellent diction but it was mostly apparent only during recitatives and very low-volume musical sections. The impact of such a dynamic and dramatic work was severely lessened when it was difficult to consistently follow the words.
Good staging and direction by Matthew Kirchner resulted in a tight, flowing performance that never descended into soap opera. Especially memorable were surreal moments such as Magda’s chilling dream watching John and the Secretary passionately making love and the hallucination in which she sees all the plot’s characters as she succumbs to the fumes of the gas stove.
Costumes and scenery and were insightfully appropriate for the opera’s post War II period and presumed East Bloc location. The set of John and Magda’s small apartment bore the trappings of their touching attempts to bring some color and warmth to the dreary surroundings.
Scene changes and transitions were swiftly and smoothly executed under the supervision of Coral Benedetti and her stage crew.
SCO’s next production is Mozart’s Cosi Fan Tutte February 12 through 21 at Winchester.
More sight and sound: Winchester recently celebrated Mexico’s traditional Day of the Dead with a festival that included music, dance, food, drink, drama and poetry and an exhibit of award winning paintings, sculptures and icons.
I visited the Winchester gallery several times to admire all the art. My personal favorite was a painting entitled “La Noche” by Roberto Rico a renowned Mexican artist whose early studies were at Mexico City’s Bellas Artes. He later became a prominent member of the famed artists’ colony at San Miguel de Allende and now paints and teaches in Las Vegas.
La Noche depicts two women at a loved one’s gravesite. In the foreground, huge clusters of flaming red, yellow and orange flowers mingle with radiant candles to brightly illuminate the scene. Gradually the glowing candles fade into the distant darkness.
The painting’s juxtaposition of light and dark seemed to suggest hope as well as grieving. Mr. Rico graciously allowed me to purchase it.
Jaroslav Sveceny, the Czech Republic’s world class violinist, and his gifted piano accompanist Vaclav Macha presented a recital at the Center’s intimate, comfortable theater. It’s not often one gets to see and hear a great classical musician in surroundings resembling a private soiree.
Maestro Sveceny’s program included works by Beethoven, Dvorak, Piazolla and more. He’s recorded 44 CD’s and received several golden and platinum record awards.