Menotti’s The Consul

The Consul 2008 Halifax Summer Opera Festival

One of the works the Halifax Summer Opera Festival will stage and perform in 2024 is The Consul, a brilliant and celebrated opera composed in 1950 by Italian-American composer Gian Carlo Menotti.

Menotti was extraordinarily involved in all his productions. Not only did he compose the music, he also wrote the English libretto and directed the show on Broadway! This commitment to the totality of the drama really makes an impact in a finished production.

The opera is a three-act work and is known for its powerful portrayal of the bureaucratic obstacles faced by people trying to escape oppression and seek refuge in another country. It is set in an unspecified totalitarian European country and tells the story of a woman named Magda Sorel, who is desperately trying to obtain a visa to leave the country with her husband, John. The consulate, represented by the character of the Secretary, serves as a symbol of a heartless bureaucracy that hinders their efforts.

The Consul deals with themes of political oppression, isolation, and the dehumanizing effects of bureaucracy. Menotti’s music is emotionally charged and helps convey the characters’ struggles and desperation. The opera has a strong political and social message, and it was composed during the Cold War era when many people were trying to escape from Eastern European countries to seek asylum in the West.

The opera received critical acclaim for its initial run on Broadway (see the original Playbill here!) and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1950. It has been performed by numerouscompanies and remains an important work in the operatic repertoire. “The Consul” is not only musically powerful but also a thought-provoking commentary on the human cost of political repression and the challenges faced by those seeking refuge from oppressive regimes, and sadly it’s still every bit as relevant as it was when it was written 73 years ago.

HSOF last produced The Consul in 2008, in a production led by Tara Scott and Nina Scott-Stoddart. Here’s an excerpt from that production: Judy Oatway, Alfred Stockwell and Oriana Dunlop sing the Act I trio, “Now O lips, say goodbye”.

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