The Consul: a cast of young gifted singers shines

 

The Consul
Music by Gian Carlo Menotti
UWOpera
Produced by Theodore Baerg    
Directed by Timothy Nelson
Choreographed by Miranda Wicket
Music Direction: Simone Luti
Music performed by Sarah Dardarian and Simone Luti
Paul Davenport Theatre    
March 15, 16 - 8 p.m.
Tickets: $15 adults, $10 seniors and students; Grand Theatre box office: 519-672-8800

Gian Carlo Menotti’s “Amahl and the Night Visitors” may arguably be his most recognized opera because of its seasonal appeal. The Consul, by contrast, is a pithy and disturbing musical drama which is driven by a darker and coarser aesthetic, as political and bureaucratic oppression subverts life, liberty and humanitarian Enlightenment.

The story focuses on John Sorel, a political dissident, and his wife Magda who makes importunate visitations to the consulate so that she and her immediate family may join her husband in a new country which is free from totalitarian politics. Ultimately all is for naught, made all the more poignant by Magda’s tragic suicide. Hope has given way to existential nihilism which in our post-modern era still resonates on many different levels, urging us therefore to examine this twentieth century opera with respect and seriousness it still deserves more than fifty years after its conception.

Solid singing from a cast of young gifted singers shines through this production from beginning to end while the dramatic action is not always so obvious. There are actors for whom stage presence is natural yet for others it is not a given, having to work harder at establishing a credible relationship with the audience.
 
As Sorel’s mother, Rachel Schwarz was perfectly cast acting and singing with natural capability and ease. Her lullaby in Act Two was a master class in character playing and singing.

Anya Pavan’s portrayal of the peremptory consulate secretary stood out too with a performance motivated by an intelligent understanding of her character. All her stage business was carried off with subtlety, sobriety and officious gravitas while demonstrating moments of vulnerability despite her seemingly inviolable exterior.

Andrew Rethazi as John Sorel, while singing the role convincingly enough, might have tried to deliver a performance that was more emotionally charged given the existential predicament in which he has been placed. Albeit this is not so easy to pull off considering his time on stage is interrupted and irregular.

The role of Magda Sorel is a challenging one and demands musical and strong acting skills. Anna Moreau sang this part beautifully as her sumptuous soprano voice was a perfect fit with Menotti’s lyrical music which is often cited for imitating effortlessly the natural cadences, rhythms and emotions of everyday conversation. The second Act ends with the aria “To This We’ve Come” which is the musical number that usually stops the show. This was certainly the case last evening. Despite several times when the acting could have been perhaps a little less self-conscious, there were many positive moments throughout her performance.

There were no weak links in the ensemble, as all of the characters played their respective roles in true Theatre of the Absurd fashion as comedy and horror were manifested simultaneously, whether through irrational action or automaton-like singing.

Credit must be given to pianist Sarah Dardarian and pianist/ musical director Simone Luti for their virtuosic playing and accompaniment from beginning to end of the opera. That said, unfortunately there were many moments when the percussive sounds from these two pianos overpowered the singers and consequently a lot of the libretto was lost.

This production of The Consul, as conceived as a piece of absurdist theatre, worked reasonably well as scenes often exploited archetypal characters and surreal images. Director Timothy Nelson and producer Theodore Baerg have assembled a cast of wonderful singers who, in Kafkaesque likeness, have succeeded in presenting the universe in The Consul as one without meaning, yet nevertheless one where the abyss is real and never that far away from any of us.

  /  4

Iain Paterson is a Musical Theatre Performer and founder of The Broadway Singers.