A night at the opera

The Consul, performed last week by the School of Music at the Purnell Center’s Philip Chosky Theater, provided an excellent opportunity to enjoy a night at the opera without even leaving campus. The Consul is a Pulitzer Prize-winning opera written by Gian-Carlo Menotti, adapted for Carnegie Mellon by stage director Gregory Lehane, and conducted by Robert Page, professors in the schools of drama and music, respectively.

Lehane is well-known for directing television programs for Lifetime, TBS, PBS, and Nickelodeon. He was hailed as director of the year in 2003 by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and was also nominated twice for an Emmy. Page is director of opera studies and choral activities at Carnegie Mellon and is known for directing the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh from 1979 to 2006.

“The theme of The Consul [is] government corruption,” said Ida Lomibao, a sophomore professional writing and music performance major. Lomibao played the viola in the opera’s orchestra. “It’s set in an unnamed country under a very harsh dictatorship.”

In the story, citizen John Sorel flees this unnamed country, leaving his family behind. His wife, Magda, is left to suffer under the harsh government.

The play opens with John returning home after a skirmish with the secret police; he hides while the police search for him. He decides to flee the country that very night and gives Magda instructions to go to the consulate and plead their case to the Consul, a foreign diplomat whose job is to protect the interests of his country’s citizens in this country. From this point on, the opera becomes successively darker, with the only comic relief coming from the antics of a magician in the consulate waiting room.

In John’s absence, Magda attempts to meet the Consul to try to convince him to let her family flee as well, as the secret police are watching her. But to Magda’s dismay, the Secretary does not allow her to meet the Consul for various legal reasons, forcing her to wait outside the consulate day after day filling out paperwork. In the time that follows, Magda’s sick baby dies, and shortly after that, her mother passes away as well.

When she is finally allowed to meet with the Consul, Magda discovers that the secret police have been consorting with the Consul the whole time. Bereft of hope, Magda gets news that John has heard of the death of his baby and is returning. But to prevent him from putting his life in danger, she writes him a suicide note. Nevertheless, John returns and arrives at the consulate looking for her, but Magda has already left. The secret police, who have followed John, enter and arrest him, and the Secretary promises John that she will call and inform Magda. Meanwhile, Magda is at her home, trying to end her life. While she is close to death, the Secretary’s phone call finally arrives and the phone rings, but as her hand reaches out to answer it, she dies.

Carnegie Mellon’s production of The Consul has alternate casts. Magda, played by senior music majors Michelle Dillon and Caitlyn Glennon, is the main character, and we watch as she endures one tragic event after another.

“Magda Sorel is a hero in every sense of the word,” Glennon said. “She fights on for the things she cares about, relying on the only thing she can: hope.... It has been an honor to play such a strong woman, to feel her pain and torment and discover how she rises above every obstacle.”

“I just really want everyone to listen to the words,” said senior music major Chrystal E. Williams, who plays the role of the Secretary. “The words are just… they’re beautiful. [It] is true art the way [Menotti] wrote [the words] and the music with them… It’s just stunning.” These sentiments ring true as both the music and singing are spectacular. And Magda’s line, “My name is Sorel, Magda Sorel, the wife of Sorel the lover of freedom,” stays with you through the entire opera.

The stage was brought to life with emotion, drawing the audience into the world of Magda and her despair. One especially beautiful moment in the opera was when Magda’s mother sang to her grandson before he died.

“It is particularly moving [when] the mother sings a beautiful aria [operatic solo].... The words are phenomenal,” said Williams.

The Magician’s tricks of hypnotism in the consulate waiting room are also enjoyable, drawing many laughs. The opera successfully incites a feeling of sympathy towards the people in the waiting room, hoping to get their visas. Their individual plights are revealed in the course of the opera, causing a feeling of resentment against the corrupt system.

The opera succeeds in holding the audience’s attention throughout the show. Although the audience is provided with a plot synopsis, watching it unfold onstage is a different experience altogether.

The opera won the Pulitzer Prize in 1950 and the New York Drama Critics Circle award for Best Musical. Apart from being a brilliant musical piece, it also has the added benefit of being written in English, which makes it easy to follow. Menotti, who wrote both the words and the music, passed away last year on Feb. 1.