To start its 52nd season, the Bronx Opera Company, guided by Artistic Director Michael Spierman and General Director Benjamin Spierman, and performing at the Lovinger Theatre at Lehman College, offered a revival of Gian Carlo Menotti’s wrenching Cold War-era melodrama “The Consul” (1950), looking at frustration, life, and death under the thumb of a heartless, controlling totalitarian government.
In the “Consul,” shadowy leaders and their louche, bullying henchpeople hunt you down, make a fugitive of you, and leave you bleeding; blithely invade your home, search you, and rifle through and scatter your belongings; separate families and cause your neighbors to vanish, and director Rod Gomez immediately established the work’s chilling, forbidding, police state atmosphere.
Eric Kramer led the Bronx Opera Orchestra and a committed and convincing cast. For the four performances, on weekends, from January 12 to 19, two casts alternated and I heard the opening night’s performers.
Mary-Hollis Hundley delivered an intense portrayal of beleaguered protagonist Magda Sorel, wife of a revolutionary, condemned to wait endlessly—for asylum, for a visa, for a hearing before the elusive and almighty eponymous Consul. She stopped the show with her haunted and haunting monologue “To this We Have Come” and proved heroic through her final sacrifice, even while unraveling and hallucinating. Her nemeses, the only ones who seem to have the Consul’s ear, were, as the Secretary of the Consulate, Cara Search, crisp, chilling, stifling—and, fittingly, a figure of death—and as the Secret Police Agent, a menacing Joseph Gansert, a classic villain. Jeremy Moore was the freedom fighter John Sorel, on the run for his life for most of the proceedings. Carolyn Tye played his mother, delivering her laments and the lullaby to her dying grandchild with feeling.
Obliged to wait in the Consulate, beside Magda Sorel, were Daniel Foltz-Morrison as a flamboyant Nika Magadoff, the magician casting his spells; Ben Hoyer as a dour Mr. Kofner; Leslie Swanson as the foreign woman, who sings only in Italian; Francesca Federico as Anna Gomez; and Amy Maude Helfer as Vera Boronel, assured her freedom, but still forced to go through hoops. Conrad Schmechel was Assan, conspiring with the ‘good guys.’
In this “Consul,” updated to 1984, the Sorels had a push-button phone and the Secretary, a computer and printer. Meganne George devised aptly prison-like settings, of scaffolding and a handful of pieces of furniture, with a raised, isolating island of power for the Secretary, and drab or threatening-looking costumes, as appropriate. Lighting was by Joshua Rose.
Like “The Crucible,” “The Consul”—though ostensibly set somewhere abroad—brings to mind America’s McCarthy era and its witch hunts. It had a significant early run on Broadway and played a part in the New York City Opera’s repertory during eight seasons, from the 1950s through the 1970s. It was last given by the Bronx Opera in 2005, during the G.W. Bush regime, and returned during these Trump times, also bizarre and infuriating, when immigrants seeking asylum are suspect, treated like criminals, their children put in cages, even dying, and their families rent asunder It can’t happen here?
The Bronx Opera’s spring production at the Lovinger, at Lehman, from April 27 to May 5, will be Gilbert and Sullivan’s “The Mikado.” For tickets and information, visit www.bronxopera.org
or telephone 718/365-4209.