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The Hottest Show in Town

Salle Ludger Duvernay, Théatre Monument-National
03/05/2011 -  & March 7, 9, 10, 12, 2011
Giancarlo Menotti: The Consul
Caroline Bleau (Magda Sorel), Etienne Dupuis (Jean Sorel), Christianne Bélanger (The Mother), Aidan Ferguson (The Secretary), Philip Kalmanovitch (Secret Police Agent), Aaron Ferguson (The Magician), Karine Boucher (The Foreign Woman), Pierre Rancourt (Mr. Kofner), Anna Gomez (Nurse Chantale), Emma Parkinson (Vera Boronel), Roy Del Valle (Assan)
Claude Webster and François Vallieres (musical arrangements) and Jérémie Pelletier (rehearsal pianist), Musicians from the McGill Chamber Orchestra, plus piano, Claude Webster (conductor)
Oriol Tomas (director), Emilie Martel (assistant director and stage manager), Mylène Chabrol (sets), Laurence Mongeau (costumes), Francis Hamel (lighting), Lucie Vigneault (choreographer)

E. Dupuis & C. Bleau (© Yves Renaud/Courtesy of L’Opéra de Montréal)

This new production of Giancarlo Menotti’s The Consul by l’Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal is a smashing success. Mounted in collaboration with the National Theatre School of Canada, the Théatre Monument-National and musicians from the McGill Chamber Orchestra plus pianist, the production showcases emerging artists in all areas of musical production. (L’Atelier lyrique is the training program of l’Opéra de Montréal.)

To my mind, Menotti’s best opera (composed in 1949-50), the Pulitzer Prize-winning The Consul paints a grim picture of life in post-World War II totalitarian regimes set against the indifference and bureaucratic ineptitude of the “friendly” west - a timely reflection of the current situation in North Africa.

The set is a marvel. The Sorels’ bleak and sparsely furnished kitchen is set against the outer wall of a huge, cold, gray concrete bunker. For the Consul’s outer office the center of the bunker wall drops down to form a drawbridge, coming to rest on the stage at a 45-degree angle. This inclined platform serves as the waiting area for the suppliants who strive day after day for recognition by the “authorities”. (On opening night there was some difficulty opening the wall.)

The singing was uniformly excellent and the acting equally splendid. As Magda Sorel, Caroline Bleau’s wide range served her well. Her elegant voice is well centered and it remained polished throughout the long evening. Her riveting death scene was bathed in pathos. Aidan Ferguson (The Secretary) lent an ironic, and as appropriate, humorous edge to the action. Christianne Bélanger sang the poignant, heart-breaking Mother with ardour and compassion. Aaron Ferguson’s reedy voice lent credibility to his delightful Magician. Etienne Dupuis portrayed husband John Sorel with aplomb and was in fine voice. The robust baritone Roy Del Valle as Assan is someone to watch.

Director Oriol Tomas and conductor Claude Webster deserve equal praise. The dramatic tension of the action and musical line never faltered. The orchestration for string quintet, clarinet and piano by Webster and François Vallieres retained all the nuances and dramatic force of the original score. All players excelled. I was hardly aware that the pit was not accommodating a full orchestra. This was the first time Webster (who is chorus master for l’Opéra de Montréal) conducted an opera in public. His passion and attention to detail offered astute and focused support to the orchestra and singers.

The richly nuanced lighting by Francis Hamel hauntingly reflected the mood of the action, and the costumes by Laurence Mongeau were of the period and inventive - from the custom shoes accommodating The Mother’s limp; to the haute couture, black silk dress of The Secretary; to the busy undergarments of Magda in her death scene (who inexplicably removes her outer garments before gassing herself).

This was not quite a “student” production. Three of the four principal singers (Dupuis, Bleau and Bélanger) are listed in the program as “guest artists”, as is the director Oriol Tomas. However, Dupuis and Bleau are alumni of l’Atelier lyrique and Tomas has been working with the school for the past few years.

L'Atelier lyrique de l'Opéra de Montréal
The McGuill Chamber Orchestra

Earl Arthur Love



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