Music and libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
University Opera Theatre • University Symphony Orchestra
November 8-11, 2001 • Power Center
The Consul is thematically more contemporary than Menotti’s best-known work Amahl and the Night Visitors. The opera is set in an unnamed 1940s postwar European country that is torn by civil strife. As the show begins, John Sorel, a resistance fighter, enters his home desperately searching for his wife, Magda. Nursing a gunshot wound and hunted by the secret police, John explains to his wife that he must cross the frontier to safety. Since the trip is too dangerous for her and their family, they agree that Magda will go to the consulate of a neighboring country to ask for asylum. At the consulate, however, Magda is met by a secretary whose only job seems to be giving people the run-around. As the toll of a tireless bureaucratic machine wears Magda down, her attempt to obtain help transforms into desperation.
This story of a young family yearning for freedom from oppression had great resonance with audiences when it was written in 1950. “The mood is very much affected by the Cold War,” says director Joshua Major, “yet “The Counsel” is still timely today. Society continues to deal with the ills of bureaucracy and the struggle to maintain individual rights.” There are still police states who deny essential freedoms to their citizens.
However, the choice of presenting this opera was not made because of its subject matter. “The Opera Theatre hasn’t presented this work since 1980, mostly because it is such a difficult piece,” says Major. One of the most difficult roles is that of Magda Sorrel. Magda is on stage most of the performance, and her aria at the end of Act I, “To This We’ve Come” is incredibly demanding. Major, who has never directed this opera before, agrees that it is “exciting to put [the students] into great roles.”
Director: Joshua Major
Conductor: Kenneth Kiesler
Assistant Conductor: Joana Carneiro
Scenic Designer: Alexander Dodge
Costume Designer: Janice Benning
Lighting Designer: Rob Murphy
Wig Designer: Guy Beck
Diction Coach: Timothy Cheek
Musical Preparation: Luis Ballestero, Shannon McGinnis
Stage Manager: Brett Finley
Magda Sorel: Jennifer Harris/Mirna Rubim
John Sorel: David Dillard/Michael Turnblom
Mother: Rachel Andrews/Emily Wood Toronto
Secretary: Megan Besley/Jean Broekhuizen
Police Agent: Darnell Ishmel/Christopher Temporelli
Nika Magadoff: Angus Wood/Chris Meerdink
Mr. Kofner: Kenneth Kellog/Kurt Frank
Anna Gomez: Alissa Rowe/Jaunelle Celaire
Foreign Woman: Deborah Selig/Patricia Rhiew
Vera Baronel: Kindra Scharich/Carla Dirlikov
Assan: Theodore Sipes/Sean Panikkar
The School of Music acknowledges the generosity of McKinley Associates, Inc. whose support has helped make this production possible.
Scene I – John Sorel drags himself into his apartment, having been shot by the police while escaping from a secret political meeting. Hearing the police coming, John hides. The policeman interrogates Magda who says she has not seen her husband for two weeks. Their neighbor, Michael the shoemaker, is dragged off to prison. John emerges from hiding and begins to pack, intending to slip across the border that night. Go to the consulate of the neighboring country, he advises Magda, and ask them for an entrance visa. He warns her not to call on any of his friends and arranges to get messages to her via Assan the glasscutter.
Scene II – At the consulate, the secretary discovers that Mr. Kofner has again failed to bring the right documents. Since the foreign woman does not speak the language, Mr. Kofner translates. The foreign woman wants to go to her daughter who ran away three years ago, but is now ill. The secretary tells her to fill out an application and wait—it may take three or four months for a visa to be approved. Magda asks to speak to the consul but is rebuffed. She begs the secretary to tell the consul her story, but the secretary only gives her forms to fill out. Nicholas Magadoff, the magician, performs magic tricks to pass the time.
Scene I – A month has passed with no news from John and no help from the consulate. Magda’s mother sings to the baby, who is sick. Magda has a nightmare in which John returns with the secretary. Magda is afraid of the secretary and begs John to send her away. He will not, claiming she is his sister. Magda wakes. A rock sails through the window – the arranged signal – and the relieved women call Assan the glasscutter. The secret police agent returns, but Magda throws him out. Assan tells the women that John is still hiding in the mountains and will not cross the border until he knows that they can get out too. Magda tells him to go ahead – everything will be fine. The mother discovers that the baby has died. Assan sees this, but the mother swears him to silence. Only after Assan leaves does Magda discover the truth. The women mourn.
Scene II – Back in the consulate, Anna Gomez, a concentration camp survivor without a home, is put off by the secretary. Magda arrives, frantic, but is told to wait in line. The magician, finding that art and fame are no substitute for a visa, hypnotizes everyone in the waiting room and makes them dance. The secretary is terrorized and forces the magician to leave. Magda screams at the secretary who agrees to get her in to see the consul. When the secret police agent comes out of the consul’s office, Magda faints.
Scene I – Magda is in the consulate again, but still has not seen the consul. The secretary goes through Vera Baronel’s papers with her. Assan comes in to tell Magda that John has heard about the death of his son and insists on coming home. Magda writes out a note for Assan to give to John that will persuade him not to recross the border. Magda leaves and the secretary is haunted by the names and faces of all the people waiting for visas. John appears. He has been followed by the secret police, who come into the consulate to get him. Outraged, the secretary promises to report this violation of international law to the consul. John asks to call Magda but is told he can do it from the police station.
Scene II – Magda opens the gas vents in the stove to kill herself. She sees visions of John, her mother, and the visitors to the consulate who tell her that the kingdom of death has no visas. Magda tries to follow them, but cannot. She dies. The phone rings.
— from the Da Capo Opera Manual