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In Review > North America

The Consul

SEATTLE
Seattle Opera
2/22/14

In Review Seattle Consul lg 514
Beer, Stonikas and Simpson in Seattle Opera's Consul
© Elise Bakketun 2014

The Consul, Gian Carlo Menotti's 1950 "musical drama" of a woman's struggle against police-state tyranny and bureaucratic red tape, has, in the several productions I've seen, always had impact as theater, but only at Seattle Opera (heard Feb. 22 and 23) did it sound quite potent as music. Seattle Symphony musicians in the pit give Seattle perhaps the finest opera orchestra west of the Met. Under conductor Carlo Montanaro, they gave an exceptionally polished performance of a score that, despite suggestions of Puccini, Strauss, Berg and Britten, cannot have been very familiar. The high strings, beautiful throughout, were especially intense when Magda Sorel first inhaled the gas. The dissonant, quadruple-forte piano chords that alternate with the ringing telephone were harrowing.

Marcy Stonikas, whose sensational Ariadne and Donna Anna as a Seattle Opera Young Artist led to a mainstage Turandot and Leonore, brought to Magda her shining dramatic soprano, which erupted with full force on high B-flat at "Liar!" Naturally bright-timbred, Stonikas found dark colors for some of "To this we've come" and impressively rode the orchestra at the aria's climax, swelling the last note. I've heard a Magda more intense and another more unhinged but none so vocally secure or beautiful. Her Magda was guardedly heroic, a good partner to her freedom-fighter husband. As the alternate Magda the next day, Vira Slywotzky, with less sheer voice, was equally moving; her Magda was more traditionally feminine and vulnerable.

Baritone Michael Todd Simpson sounded and looked the part of John Sorel to a T, his every word emerging strong and clear. As his Mother, mezzo-soprano Lucille Beer, sometimes tremulous and hollow-toned on high, was rich-voiced in her low range and on balance satisfying. Baritone Joseph Lattanzi was a fine Assan, the nervous glasscutter who risks all to bring Magda news of John. The Secret Police Agent needs a stronger vocal presence than it got from baritone Steven LaBrie.

At the consulate, mezzo-soprano Sarah Larsen's eloquently sung Secretary subtly showed her unfeeling-functionary front to be protective armor through glimpses of core humanity well before Menotti made it clear. That made good sense, but impact overrode sense when the desperate visa-seekers sang "In endless waiting rooms" and the Secretary, rather than feel for them or file their papers, slouched in her office chair and filed her nails.

Bass Colin Ramsey, as the grave Mr. Kofner, mezzo Deborah Nansteel, as the emotional Foreign Woman he helps, and mezzo Margaret Gawrysiak, as Vera Boronel, the only one to obtain a visa, all had sumptuous voices. Dana Pundt's finely pointed soprano helped define the forlorn Anna Gomez. Tenor Alex Mansoori was deft and fluid as magician Nika Magadoff.

All the singers except Beer, LaBrie and Ramsey are former Seattle Opera Young Artists — a program currently on hiatus for financial reasons. The stage direction by Peter Kazaras was mostly straightforward and effective. David Gordon's sets from Arizona Opera included twenty-foot-tall filing cabinets at the consulate that dwarfed mere human beings. Duane Schuler's lighting and Mark Haim's choreography helped make Magda's two hallucinations eerie high points. spacer

MARK MANDEL

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