We are here to encourage the development of gifted young singers and to stimulate the growth of New York City's invaluable chamber opera companies. But we will not neglect the Metropolitan Opera either. Get ready for bouquets and brickbats.

Sunday, January 13, 2019


Cast and Production Team for Gian Carlo Menotti's The Consul presented by Bronx Opera

Bronx Opera has been delighting New York audiences for over 50 years. Distance has prevented us from reviewing their productions with any great regularity.  Add to that the fact that they perform everything in English, a language which we do not enjoy hearing sung. We loathe translations and cannot name many operas composed in English for which we can drum up any enthusiasm.

However, we have enjoyed Gian Carlo Menotti's The Medium (with Caroline Nye in the starring role) and decided to take a chance on The Consul, and we are happy we did so. This is a very sad opera, and the saddest part of all is that the totalitarian governments and the consequent refugee situations still exist seven decades after Menotti selected this topic and wrote his own libretto. If only art could promote political change!

It doesn't matter which decade was chosen. Here, Director Rod Gomez chose to set the work in the 1980's.  It could have been today. The direction was excellent and the piece worked well as theater. Meganne George dressed the cast in drab attire and created a bare set out of scaffolding towers which held a door, a window, and....an oven.  If you see a gun in Act I, you are waiting for someone to get shot. When you see an oven...well, we are not going to tell you about baking bread!

The scenes alternate between the poor apartment of the Sorel's in a nameless totalitarian country, and a consulate which will remind audience members of any government agency they have visited in which there are endless forms to be filled out and passive-aggressive people in charge.

Mrs. Sorel's husband is involved in some kind of anti-government resistance and is on the run from the secret police who hound poor Mrs. Sorel into a state of misery. In this role we have the splendid soprano Mary-Hollis Hundley whose fine work we have reviewed on many occasions. We mostly recall her dignified and elegant creation of the Countess Almaviva at the Santa Fe Opera, and some lovely Russian singing at the George London Competition.

Last night will, we hope, be a breakout performance for her. She created a highly sympathetic character with whom it was easy to identify and the enthusiastic applause she received at the end let us know that others shared our opinion. Menotti, like most 20th c. composers, does not give the singers much to work with in terms of melody, and English can never show off the voice the way Italian does; still we were happy with what we heard.

As her mother-in-law, mezzo-soprano Caroline Tye was similarly affecting, especially when singing to the baby in the cradle. Ms. Tye is another artist we have reviewed and enjoyed upon many occasions. We lost count of how many performances she graced at Utopia Opera but our associations ran to another Menotti opera produced by New Camerata Opera in which she took the starring role in the aforementioned The Medium--a performance which encouraged us to attend last night.

Cara Search, who is new to us, had the role of the consul's secretary, the one demanding increasing numbers of forms to be filled out. Chuckles in the audience told us how many of us have had similar experiences with government bureaucracies. It was another fine performance.

Jeremy Moore did well as Mr. Sorel, appearing in the first act and again at the end. We recall his fine performance as Eugene Onegin for Utopia Opera. Joseph Gansert made a scary secret police agent.

Every tragedy needs some comic relief which was provided by Daniel Foltz-Morrison in the role of the magician/hypnotist Nika Magadoff who entertained the group of supplicants in the consul's office.  His appearance in the final scene was of a different nature but dramatically valid.

Baritone Conrad Schmechel portrayed John Sorel's friend Assan. We have only seen him previously in roles that allowed him to express his personality--we believe it was Papageno one time and El Dancairo another time.

The group waiting for visas comprised Ben Hoyer as Mr. Kofner, Leslie Swanson as a "foreign woman", Francesca Federico as Anna Gomez, and Amy Maude Helfer as Vera Boronel.

The same cast will perform next Saturday night and we recommend them highly. We took a look at the cast for the Sunday matinee performances and recognize some major talents there as well.  In either case you won't be disappointed.

Under the baton of Eric Kramer, the Bronx Opera Orchestra performed Menotti's music as finely as one would wish. We particularly enjoyed the wind section and paid particular attention to the oboe line, so beautifully played by Jacob Slattery. In Act II, he played the English Horn, the sound of which was (LOL) music to our ears. We sat close to the percussionist, Barbara Allen, who was on an elevated platform, and enjoyed that equally.

It seemed to us that Menotti's music was most lyrical during the interludes when no one was singing. We found that strange. We also found it peculiar that the tragic finale was accompanied by grandly heroic music. Was that meant to be ironic? If you, dear reader, can contribute something to our understanding of 20th c. music, please comment below.

(c) meche kroop

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