Extra from The Berkeley Daily Planet

Berkeley Chamber Opera’s Artistic Director, Eliza O’Malley, followed up on the outstanding achievement of her company’s production last December of Vincenzo Bellini’s I Capuleti e i Montecchi with what seemed at first glance an odd choice for the company’s next production – Gian-Carlo Menotti’s 1950 opera The Consul. Menotti, an American-born composer of Italian origin, is hardly in the same league as Vincenzo Bellini. Menotti’s chamber operas The Medium (1946) and The Telephone (1947), and his television Christmas opera Ahmal and the Night Visitors (1951) have always remained marginal curiosities in the operatic world. Though I’ve seen these works, they never made much of an impression on me. Gian-Carlo Menotti’s main claim to fame, it seemed, was as founding director in 1958 of the Spoleto Festival of Two Worlds, which he later took to Charleston, South Carolina.

However, as staged by Berkeley Chamber Opera in two performances at Berkeley’s Hillside Club on July 14 & 16, Menotti’s The Consul was a revelation. Here is a serious opera written in a post-Puccini verismo style, full of angular, often dissonant music that alternates with occasional soliloquies and duets of a poignant lyricism. The plot revolves around a topic that is in the forefront of news today in Donald Trump’s USA – the fate of political refugees. Set in a fictional, unidentified European country, The Consul focuses on the plight of one John Sorel, his wife Magda, his infant son, and his aging mother. John, a political dissident in a totalitarian state, is wanted by the police for his political opposition to the government. When the State’s secret police come looking for John, he is hidden by his wife and mother. The police ask questions but don’t find John. Once the police have left, John bids his family goodbye and heads for the border. Taking his leave, John, movingly sung by tenor Michael Orlinsky, sings a poignant…

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