Writer, music & lyrics: Gian Carlo Menotti
Director: Max Hoehn
Reviewer: Beth Steer
Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul, a tale of hopelessness, bureaucracy, and frustration, originally produced in 1950, is restaged by the Welsh National Opera in this recent performance at the Wales Millennium Centre. Running for one night only – and in one single act – as part of the Centre’s Freedom summer series, the piece, focusing on the struggle for a visa in a desperate search for asylum, hits home in the current global climate.
Set ‘somewhere in Europe’, John Sorel (Gary Griffiths), a ‘workman and freedom fighter’ is injured and followed home by the secret police. His wife Magda (Giselle Allen), infant son, and mother (Catherine Wyn-Rogers) manage to hide John from the consequent police investigation at their home – and so begins the real focus of the story: the frustrating, officious wait in purgatory that the family must face to be reunited.
Rather than drawing on dramatic or emotive tales of persecution, the piece instead alternates between the Sorel’s sparse flat and the waiting room of the ‘Consulate’ – filled every day with a motley crew of inhabitants who return time and time again to fill out the raft of documents required to satisfy the Consul. The Consul, of course, never appears – and instead embodies a faceless figure, impossible to gain an audience with, representing the flaws of a beaurocratic ‘system’.
The subject matter is as poignant now – given the international immigration crisis, right-wing populism, Donald Trump, and Brexit – as it was in 1950. Several lines – ‘I’m asking you for help – and all you’re giving me is more papers. Aren’t you human, like the rest of us?’ – sung dramatically and emotively, force the issue home, and push the piece towards its inevitable, doomed conclusion.
As Magda, The Consul’s doomed heroine, Giselle Allan conveys both frustration and a feeling of utter futility expertly. As she, bleakly, breaks into the piece’s most moving passage, rhetorically asking,
Name? Woman. Age? Still young. Hair? Grey. Eyes? The colour of tears. Occupation? Waiting.
The audience is rapt – watching a woman unravel before them. Catherine Wyn-Rogers, as The Mother, also delivers a captivating and touching moment as she sings her sickly, infant grandson a lullaby amidst the chaos, crooning, “sleep, for sleep is kind”.
While intentional, the bleak and utter hopelessness of the piece makes it a difficult – and, at times, not overly engaging – watch. The staging, which is very minimal, adds to this effect, and the piece feels as though it could do with an interval (as originally staged) to give the audience time to pause and reflect.
It’s incessant in its bitter futility, which, nevertheless, makes it a particularly relevant piece for re-examination in the world we live in today.
Runs until 12th June 2019 | Image: Contributed