Opera Scotland

Consul The Consul

Music

Gian Carlo Menotti (born Cadegliano, 7 July 1911; died Monte Carlo, 1 February 2007)

Text

The composer.

 

Premieres

First performance: Philadelphia, 1 March 1950.

First performance in UK: London (Cambridge Theatre), 7 February 1951.

First performance in Scotland: Glasgow (Lyric Theatre), 29 January 1957.

 

Background

The Consul was Menotti's first attempt at composing a full-length opera, and was an immediate international success. With its setting in an anonymous Eastern European state in the aftermath of the Second World War, it had an obvious topicality - perhaps similar to some contemporary works by the novelist Graham Greene or, from an earlier generation, Kafka. The drama is powerful and the music is immediately effective, at times reminiscent of Puccini and his contemporaries.

 

Main characters

John Sorel, an activist (baritone)

Magda Sorel, his wife (soprano)

Mother of Magda (contralto)

Secret Police Agent (bass)

Secretary (mezzo-soprano)

Mr Kofner, a visa applicant (bass-baritone)

Foreign Woman, a visa applicant (soprano)

Anna Gomez, a visa applicant (soprano)

Vera Boronel, a visa applicant (mezzo-soprano)

Nika Magadoff, a visa applicand and magician (tenor)

Assan, a glazier and friend of John Sorel (baritone)

 

Plot Summary

The opera is set in a police state, and focuses on events in the Consulate of a western country to which a cross-section of the population wish to emigrate. The central character is Magda Sorel, who is desperately attempting to obtain visas for herself and her husband, a political agitator. The Consul himself never appears, but is represented by his  nameless Secretary whose function seems to be to frustrate the efforts of all the other characters. A representative of pointless bureaucracy, claiming that the Consul is busy, she constantly gives out a range of forms for applicants to complete, apparently to no purpose.

At the outset, Sorel bursts into his house where he lives with his wife and baby and Magda's mother, who spends much of her time nursing the child. He has been wounded by the Secret Police while at a political meeting, and one of his colleagues killed. He hides as some policemen arrive and briefly question Magda and his mother. After they leave John emerges from hiding and arranges how he will contact Magda in future. In the waiting room at the Consulate the applicants enter one at a time. Each of them, including Magda, is repelled by the Secretary in turn, and a sense of frustration develops.

A month later, in the Sorel's house. Magda and her mother discuss the chances of getting visas. When Magda falls asleep, she has a nightmare, then is woken when a stone is thrown through the window. This was the  pre-arranged signal. As instructed, she phones Assan, but is disturbed by the arrival of the Secret Policeman, who is still there when Assan comes to repair the window. Once he is able to communicate, Assan tells Magda that John has sent a message from his hiding place in the mountains that he will only escape abroad when he knows his wife and child have visas. Magda persuades Assan to give a false report that the visas have arrived. Meantime, Mother realises that the baby has quietly starved to death.

Back in the Consulate a few days later, the same group of applicants is still being told by the Secretary to fill in forms. When Magda arrives the Magician tells her that he has been several times in the past month, but the Consulate always reaches closing time. He horrifies the Secretary by hypnotising the other applicants so that they dance joyfully. He leaves after reinstating normality, and Magda is allowed by the others to jump the queue. But the secretary has recollection of her, and Magda launches into a hysterical diatribe against the system. At last showing signs of humanity, the Secretary goes to see if the Consul will see Magda. The response is that he will do so when his current visitor leaves - however this turns out to be the Secret Policeman and Magda faints.

On Magda's next visit she sees the Secretary's delight that one of the applicants, Vera Boronel, has at last had her application accepted. They cheerfully set about signing Vera's last batch of forms. However Assan arrives, to tell Magda that John has heard that the baby and Magda's mother have both died and he is threatening to return over the border to rescue her. She persuades Assan to take a note to him to dissuade him, and she goes home. John then arrives, to be told by the Secretary that he has just missed Magda. The Secret Policeemen arrive and arrest him, in spite of the Secretary's protests about diplomatic immunity. The final scene is back at the Sorel home, when Magda returns in despair and gasses herself.

The Cast

John Sorel
 an activist
Magda Sorel
 John's wife
Mother
 of Magda
Secretary
 at the Consulate

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