Menotti: The Consul

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

LABELS: Newport Classic
WORKS: The Consul
PERFORMER: Beverly O’Regan Thiele, Michael Chioldi, Joyce Castle, Emily Golden, John Cheek; Berkshire Opera Company, Camerata New York Orchestra/Joel Revzen
Premiered on Broadway in 1950, Menotti’s political drama The Consul has enjoyed much success on both sides of the Atlantic, but this recording – based on a production last summer by the enterprising Berkshire Opera Company – is its first. Set in an unnamed totalitarian state, it is a grim tale of one woman’s increasingly desperate struggle to gain a visa to join her freedom fighter husband in exile. She is frustrated at every return by an uncaring, faceless bureaucracy, typified by the Consul’s secretary (the Consul himself never appears – he is always too busy); after her baby dies, she gives up all hope and eventually sticks her head in the gas oven. This is serious stuff, its social concern reminiscent of Arthur Miller (but without Miller’s depth of characterisation), and unremittingly bleak in its emotional language. But for all the power of Menotti’s libretto, the music disappoints: aside from three or four set-piece solos and ensembles where he allows his natural lyricism a freer reign, the style is conversational, functional, but lacks any distinctive edge. The overall impression is of a satisfying one-act opera losing its impact by being stretched too thinly over three acts and two hours. Joel Revzen conducts with authority, and the cast of (to me, unfamiliar) American singers is without a weak link. Stephen Maddock