Étienne Dupuis (Jean Sorel), Caroline Bleau (Magda Sorel) (Photo Credit:Yves Renaud)
Menotti’s opera itself is a drag
by Richard Burnett
The box office at the Monument National reported this night’s presentation of Gian Carlo Menotti’s somber opera The Consul was sold out. But there were many empty seats by the end of the night – not because of the efforts of the pretty good cast, opera singers studying with L’Opera de Montreal’s Atelier Lyrique (who presented the three-act, three-hour opera with the McGill Chamber Orchestra) but rather because Menotti’s opera itself is a drag.
The Consul tells the story of fictional political dissident John Sorel (played by baritone Etienne Dupuis), on the run from the secret police in a totalitarian state, and the tragic end of his family, notably his wife Magda Sorel (played by soprano Caroline Bleau) who (surprise, surprise) commits suicide.
Bélanger played her role so well one could not help but feel her character’s pain and sorrow.
In 1950 Menotti won both the Pulitzer Prize in Music and New York Drama Circle Critics Award for Best Musical for The Consul. It’s important to note Joseph Stalin was still in office back then and the Cold War had not yet peaked. Over six decades later, it’s a different world. But the Castros still run Cuba, China’s Communist party won’t let their people go and Muammar Gaddafi is killing his own people.
Still, this remount’s contemporary theatrics cannot escape the outdated greyness of the Soviet era. Worse, The Consul’s spoken dialogue belongs on the Broadway stage and not in an opera house. Magda’s over-the-top Picasso-esque hallucinations at the end of Menotti’s opera belong on a canvas, not on the stage.
I must admit here that I walked out of L’Opera de Montreal’s production of The Consul at Salle Wilfred Pelletier some years ago because I thought that production was full of crap. I expected the same this time round, except the cast was really quite good, especially mezzo-soprano Christianne Bélanger, who played John Sorel’s mother. Bélanger played her role so well one could not help but feel her character’s pain and sorrow. The pacing was also solid with a very animated Claude Webster conducting the McGill Chamber Orchestra, who very rarely drowned out the singers.
Still, despite the fine efforts of the cast and orchestra, Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul can’t help but wear out its welcome.
The Consul continues at Le Monument National on March 9, 10 and 12 at 8 pm. Surf to Opéra de Montréal
Running time: 3 hours