But there is so much to explain
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts
05/09/2015 - & May 10, 12, 15, 16, 2015
Gian Carlo Menotti: The Consul
Keith Phares (John Sorel), Kara Shay Thomson (Magda Sorel), Carla Jablonski (Secretary), Victoria Livengood (Mother), Jason Ferrante (Nika Magadoff), Tyler Simpson (The Secret Police Agent), Chance Eakin (Mr. Kofner), Betsy Diaz (Foreign Woman), Rebecca Enriques (Anna Gomez), Kirsten Scott (Vera Boronel), Isaac Bray (Assan)
Florida Grand Opera orchestra and chorus, (chorus master), Andrew Bisantz (conductor), Julie Maykowski (director), David P. Gordon (scenic design), Howard Tsvi Kaplan (costume design), Kevin G. Mynatt (lighting design)
K. S. Thomson (© Brittany Mazzurco)
“The Consul? What’s that?” This was not an uncommon reaction when Florida Grand Opera announced the season’s schedule. Lovers of only the bread and butter repertory probably aren’t even going to show up. Those even familiar with the less standard might not know this one. And those of us who do are probably familiar from the original cast recording of its Broadway premiere and/or a DVD of its 1960 television production. If lucky perhaps we caught it at a performance done by a local university’s music department. The idea that Florida Grand Opera is taking it on, is a giant step.
If you know the opera well, yet have never seen it onstage, you might be surprised. In the 65 years since its premiere the world has experienced countless atrocities leading people to flee their homelands. Though this production is set in Eastern Europe after World War II, it could be taking place today, anywhere.
It is a tricky work for those who are only comfortable with unwavering answers. Is John Sorel really the noble man his wife, Magda, reveres? Even his mother tells him to stay home and get a job. That is up to each audience member to decide. The opera’s creator, Gian Carlo Menotti seemed to revel in the ambiguity and didn’t pigeonhole. By giving even the suffering, no pity, he expects, no, demands us to consider infinite possibilities; this opera never offers comfort.
What we do get is endlessly imaginative music. This too isn’t exactly comfortable though there are moments of almost painful beauty as in the ensemble that concludes the first act and Mother’s lullaby to her grandson, along with Nika Magadoff’s distinct and deliberately annoying “comic” aria (here brilliantly given by Jason Ferrante). Most important is Magda’s great second act scena. Why doesn’t a young composer create a suite using this opera’s music? There sure is enough.
It is hard to imagine The Consul being mounted without a cast able to scale these dangerous heights. Florida Grand Opera secured the giant vocal and dramatic talents of Kara Shay Thomson. Magda has not a pleasant moment, yet Thomson demonstrates solid dignity right up to her horrifying end. The voice soars, her diction is spot on, the character is completely explored. Thomson had the good fortune to work with cast mates who also approached their roles with equal dedication. Victoria Livengood’s Mother finds the warmth for her grandson that Magda just cannot seem to display. Mother is weathered by the turmoil in which her family has found itself, yet Livengood’s voice remains a powerful tool, especially when she makes an attempt to stand up to the police and when expressing grief over her grandchild’s death. Keith Phares has a beautiful baritone which along with his impeccable diction creates a gripping character whom the audience never really gets to know; not an easy feat to pull off. Their concluding trio in the first scene is brilliant offering a testament to this opera’s often neglected tenderness.
The Secretary might seem simply symbolic, but her third act rally to injustice somehow makes her the most heroic character. Carla Jablonski has a blast playing that hateful functionary we have so often encountered. Her love of power is all consuming as she adds to the misery of the pathetic people needing her assistance. When Magda finally corners her, Jablonski quickly caves into a sympathetic ally. The Secretary does most certainly know the difference between right and wrong under the rules; Jablonski remains under control even when she must take matters into her own hands.
Every remaining cast member makes a tremendous contribution; and though the desperation of Betsy Diaz’s Foreign Woman, the kindness of Chance Eakin’s Mr. Kofner and scariness of Tyler Simpson’s Secret Police Agent, might seem particularly memorable to me, some might feel equally drawn to others. This ensemble of fine singing actors is on a particularly high level.
A lot of ingredients go into making such brilliance, and with Julie Maykowski, Florida Grand Opera got a director who obviously understands the piece’s most minute details always trusting and never upstaging Menotti. Conductor Andrew Bisantz has led several outstanding productions here, and once again finds the right balance of force and restraint that is so vital to the success of this piece.
The physical side of this production is no less marvelous. David P. Gordon’s realistically depressing apartment and the intimidating consulate move with such precise subtlety that they do not distract from Menotti’s breathtaking interludes. Howard Tsvi Kaplan’s clever costumes offer the only glimmers of optimism that can creep through this dark world that is made even more ominous by Kevin G. Mynatt’s imaginative lighting design.
Yet another opera that isn’t for everyone. But anyone who has the opportunity and passes it up should be ashamed. Finally, something truly adult. Florida Grand Opera knocked it out of the park.