The Consul

Music and Libretto by Gian Carlo Menotti
Poster design by Mike Peironek

November 8 - 10 at 8 PM
November 11 at 2 PM
Power Center

background | newsletter | press release | synopsis | program | photographs

Background Information
Gian Carlo Menotti
Gian Carlo Menotti Gian Carlo Menotti was born on July 7, 1911, in Cadegliano, Italy. He celebrates his 90th birthday year in 2001. At the age of 7, under the guidance of his mother, he began to compose songs, and four years later he wrote the words and music of his first opera, "The Death of Pierrot". He began his formal musical training in 1923 at the Verdi Conservatory in Milan. Following the death of his father, his mother took him to the United States, where he was enrolled at Philadelphia's Curtis Institute of Music. There he completed his musical studies, working in composition under Rosario Scalero.

His first mature work, the one-act opera buffa, "Amelia Goes to the Ball", was premiered in 1937, a success that led to a commission from the National Broadcasting Company to write an opera especially for radio, "The Old Maid and the Thief," the first such commission ever given. His first ballet, "Sebastian," followed in 1944, and for this he wrote the scenario as well as the score. After the premiere of his Piano Concerto in 1945, Menotti returned to opera with "The Medium," shortly joined by "The Telephone," both enjoying international success.

"The Consul," Menotti's first full-length work, won the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics Circle award as the best musical play of the year in 1954. By far Menotti's best-known work is the Christmas classic"Amahl and the Night Visitors," composed for NBC-TV in 1951. Menotti writes the text to all his operas, the original language being English in every case, with the exception of "Amelia Goes to the Ball," "The Island God," and "The Last Savage," which were first set to Italian words. Recent operas include "The Singing Child" (1993) and "Goya" (1986), written for Placido Domingo and given its premiere by The Washington Opera. Menotti's most recent vocal works are "Jacob's Prayer" (1997), a commission from the American Choral Directors Association, "Gloria," written as part of a composite Mass celebrating the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize, "For the Death of Orpheus," with a premiere by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra led by Robert Shaw in November 1990, and "Llama de Amor Viva," premiered in April, 1991. He has also recently written a trio for the Verdehr Trio, which received its world premiere at the Spoleto Festival in July, 1996.

In addition to the numerous operatic works, Menotti has enriched the artistic world with ballets, including "Errand into the Maze," and "The Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore"; Pastorale for Piano and Strings (1934); "Poemetti," a suite of piano pieces for children (1937); "The Hero" (1952), a song on a text by Robert Horan; and "Canti della Lontananza," a cycle of seven songs (1967).

1958 saw the opening of Menotti's own festival, the Festival of Two Worlds, in Spoleto, Italy. Devoted to the cultural collaboration of Europe and America in a program embracing all the arts, the Spoleto Festival has gone on to be one of the most popular festivals in Europe. The festival literally became "of two worlds" in 1977 with the founding of Spoleto USA in Charleston, South Carolina, which he led until 1993 when he became Director of the Rome Opera. He continues to direct opera at Spoleto and elsewhere, including a Boheme at the Washington Opera in November 1996. In 1984 Menotti was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in the arts. He was chosen the 1991 "Musician of the Year" by Musical America, inaugurating worldwide tributes to the composer in honor of his 80th birthday.

- from G. Schirmer Inc., puclishers of Menotti's music since 1946"

Press Release

ANN ARBOR - The University of Michigan School of Music Opera Theatre presents Gian Carlo Menotti's Pulitzer Prize-winning opera "The Consul," November 8-10, 8:00 p.m. and November 11, 2:00 p.m. The show will be performed at the Power Center for the Performing Arts in Ann Arbor. The head of the university's Opera Workshop, Joshua Major, will direct. School of Music professor Kenneth Kiesler will conduct the orchestra.

"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."

The opera was both written and composed by Gian Carlo Menotti. Born in 1911 in Cadegliano, Italy, Menotti was educated in the United States at institutions including Philadelphia's Curtis Institute. He is often revered as the father of American opera. Menotti is the founder of the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy, and its sister festival, Charleston, South Carolina's Spoleto USA. He earned a reputation as an arts ambassador between the two continents, and was awarded a Kennedy Center Honor for lifetime achievement in 1984.

Inspired in mood, scenery and costume by film-noir, "The Counsel" will "look and feel to many like a departure from traditional opera fare," says Major. "We strive to have some balance in the repertoire we present, giving students and audiences an opportunity to perform and see a wide variety of shows." Major also believes that the show’s design will affect the feel of the performance. "I love working with designers," commented Major. "We have a symbiotic relationship: the music helps to define the visual components and vice-versa." The production team includes scenic designer Alexander Dodge. Dodge made his Broadway debut this past month with the scenic design for the revival of "Hedda Gabler." "The New York Times" calls the "Hedda Gabler" sets "perfectly realized," and praised Dodge for the way his sets contributed to the show's tension. Other members of "The Consul's" design team include: costume designer Janice Benning, who is also the resident designer with Curious Theatre Company in Denver, Colorado, and an assistant professor in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Her designs were last seen in Falstaff. Rob Murphy, a Theatre Department faculty member, contributes lighting designs. His scenic and lighting designs were seen in last season's "Measure for Measure."

Ticket prices are $20 and $15 reserved seating with students only $7 with ID. Tickets are available at the League Ticket Office, located within the Michigan League on UM Central Campus. The Ticket Office is open from 10am-6pm, Monday through Friday and 10am-1pm on Saturday. Order by phone at (734) 764-2538. All major credit cards are accepted.

The Power Center for the Performing Arts, located at 121 Fletcher Street, is handicapped accessible and equipped with an infrared listening system for hearing enhancement.

Place: Somewhere in Europe. Time: After World War II.

Act One, Scene One. The Sorel home. Wounded freedom fighter John Sorel, a fugitive, staggers into the empty room. He calls for his wife Magda, who rushes in along with his Mother. He tells them of a secret meeting he attended which the police had learned about -- shooting at them as they escaped across the rooftops, wounding him and killing a companion. Magda sees that the police are approaching their home and hides John. A menacing Secret Police Agent enters and inquires about John but Magda reveals nothing. Once the agent leaves, John explains his plan to leave the country. He tells Magda to go to the Consulate and plead their case so that she, their baby and his Mother can go safely as well.

Act One, Scene Two. The Consulate waiting room. People are patiently waiting. Mr. Kofner is frustrated by the formidable Secretary's insistence that he present every document possible. A foreign woman, anxious to leave the country in order to care for her sick daughter, receives the same treatment from the Secretary as well -- if she fills out the forms and her application is accepted, she may be able to leave in a few months. Magda asks to speak with the Consul and receives the same stony treatment as the others. Despite a desperate appeal for an audience with the unseen Consul, she is told to fill out the paperwork and provide documents. Along with everyone else, she must wait.

Act Two, Scene One. The Sorel home. A month of waiting outside the Consul's office has left Magda discouraged. To add to her troubles, her baby is also sick. John's Mother tries to console her. In a nightmare, Magda sees John with the Secretary -- whom he introduces as his sister. The dream ends with a horrible vision of a dead child. Magda wakes up with a scream. A stone breaks the window: it is a sign from John, she is to send for Assan the glasscutter. She is no sooner finished doing so when the Secret Police Agent reappears. His threats are more direct this time -- Magda must reveal John's whereabouts or the names of his friends. She refuses and yells at him to get out -- threatening to kill him if he returns. Assan tells Magda that John is still hiding in the mountains and will not leave the country until he knows that his wife has a visa and can join him. Magda instructs him to tell John that the arrangements are complete: it is not true but there is no other way of compelling John to save his life. Assan agrees to do as asked. Meanwhile, the Mother sees that the half-starved baby has died in its sleep.

Act Two, Scene Two. The Consulate waiting room. Anna Gomez appeals to the Secretary but receives the usual response. An out-of-work Magician tries to console her with his tricks, but this doesn't work either. Magda is again refused an audience with the Consul. She can bear no more and launches into a fiery denunciation of the bureaucratic system and the injustice it leads to. The annoyed Secretary finally obtains an audience for Magda -- once an important visitor finishes his meeting with the Consul. Magda faints when she realizes that the important visitor is the Secret Police Agent.

Act Three, Scene One. The Consulate waiting room. While Magda continues to wait, Vera Boronel finally receives her visa. Assan rushes in, looking for Magda. The news about John is bad: he has heard about the deaths of his baby and his mother and intends to come back over the frontier to fetch Magda. To prevent his inevitable capture and death, Magda invents a story for John in a letter to guarantee that he will stay away. She gives the letter to Assan but refuses to tell him its contents. Magda and the others leave and the Secretary is alone for a moment. John rushes into the room, looking behind him to make sure he has not been followed. He asks if Magda has been there and is told that he may still catch up with her if he hurries. That is not possible, though, because the Secret Police have followed him to the Consulate and will not allow him to leave. The Secret Police Agent enters and despite the Secretary's protests that the Consulate is a safe-haven, arrests John. Frantic, the Secretary immediately phones Magda to warn her.

Act Three, Scene Two. The Sorel home. The phone can be heard ringing in Mrs. Sorel's room but Magda, in a calm but mechanical state, ignores it. After plugging the cracks under the doors and windows with clothing, she goes to the stove and turns on the gas. She puts the shawl that covered her baby's cradle over her head and bends over the stove. As she weakens, she imagines that she sees all the characters of the Consulate, John and his Mother. Suddenly the phone rings again. Magda stretches out her hand to answer it, but she is too weak to answer. She falls inert over a chair, while the phone continues to ring.

- from The Washington Opera,

Click here to view the The Consul program as a PDF file

Production Photographs

Jennifer Harris as Magda and David Dillard as John Jennifer Harris and Rachel Andrews as Mother

Megan Besley as the Secretary and Kenneth Kellog as Mr. Kofner Carla Dirlikov as Vera

Patricia Rhiew as the Foreign Woman Jennifer Harris

Cast - Nov. 8 & 10 Mirna Rubim as Magda and Emily Wood Toronto as Mother

Mirna Rubim and Christopher Temporelli as the Police Agent Jean Broekhuizen as the Secretary and Chris Meerdink as the Magician

Jean Broekhuizen and Michael Turnblom as John Cast - Nov. 9 & 11