MEMETERIA by Thomas May

Music & the Arts

The Cruelty of Strangers

Menotti's The Consul at Seattle Opera; photo by Elise Bakketun

Menotti’s The Consul at Seattle Opera; photo by Elise Bakketun

Here’s my City Arts preview of the production of Gin Carlo Menotti’s The Consul, opening this weekend at Seattle Opera:

It may seem odd for an opera company to be cagey about revealing the ending of a work written more than a half-century ago. But Seattle Opera is holding the cards very tight to its chest when it comes to The Consul by Gian Carlo Menotti. Seattle Opera’s production, which opens this weekend, marks the company’s first staging of the work and will certainly be the first live experience of it for many in the audience. Premiered in March 1950, The Consul enjoyed a flash of glory when it transferred to a Broadway theatre that year, playing for some 286 performances.

Set in a grey, unidentified totalitarian state in the middle of the 20th century, The Consul revolves around the plight of Magda Sorel and her husband John, a dissident who is forced, shortly after the opera begins, to go into hiding as an enemy of the state. Magda desperately attempts to negotiate the dehumanizing bureaucracy of the state Consulate to arrange for legal emigration.

There are obvious tinges of Kafka and other poets of modern alienation as Magda repeatedly tries to satisfy the baffling documentation requirements demanded by the Consul’s office. The secret police stalk her, closing in on her husband’s whereabouts. In the final scene, after they arrest John at the Consul’s office, “it comes down to whether the secretary will break the rules and do the right thing…” Or at least that’s how the cliffhanger synopsis on Seattle Opera’s website describes the ending.

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Filed under: directors, opera, Seattle Opera

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