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In Review > North America

The Consul

Long Beach Opera

In Review Consul hdl 1 1117
Patricia Racette as Magda Sorel in Long Beach Opera's production of Menotti’s The Consul
Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff
In Review Long Beach Consul lg 1117
Audrey Babcock and Racette
Photo by Keith Ian Polakoff

PERIPATETIC LONG BEACH OPERA opened its 2017-18 season out of town, up the freeway in Lawndale. The venue was the capacious Centinela Valley Center for the Arts, on a high school campus. The vehicle was Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul. The star, surprisingly, for the company usually does without stars, was none other than Patricia Racette.

Racette made her role debut here as Magda Sorel, the focus of the work. It certainly gave her much to sing and do, though in a certain limited range of emotion. The character is desperate from start to finish and doesn’t develop much. All Racette could do was up the intensity from time to time, which she ably accomplished. Her voice was nimble and penetrating and charged, as need be. Still, the part, with its syllable per note word setting and angular phrases didn’t seem to give her a lot of opportunity to shine.

The opera, given its premiere in 1950, was hugely successful in its day and won the Pulitzer Prize. Its topical plot concerns the plight of European refugees in the aftermath of World War II.  The secret police are after one John Sorel, so he goes abroad, leaving wife and baby behind. Much of the opera is given over to Magda’s efforts to join him, and takes place in a gritty apartment or the waiting room of the consulate. The atmosphere is Kafkaesque mixed with Graham Greene. The music draws on Puccini and Brahms and is peppered with dissonance and jaggedness. There are comedic elements, especially in the consulate’s office, overseen by a most unhelpful secretary, that don’t always sit well with the serious business at hand. One overtly comedic number, however, when a magician approaches the secretary to make his case,  performs magic tricks and hypnotizes the assembled, is a wildly successful tour de force, which Nathan Granner made the most of here.

The cast, several of which were Long Beach regulars, was uniformly solid, with Cedric Berry a standout as a quietly stern Secret Police Agent. Justin Ryan, who recently played Walt Disney in the company’s production of The Perfect American, introduced a dignified John Sorel. Audrey Babcock provided an appropriately annoying Secretary, Zeffin Quinn Zollis a nervous Mr. Kofner and Victoria Livengood a booming Mother, who was unfortunately asked to wear one of the worst wigs we’ve ever seen on stage. In the pit, Kristof Van Grysperre conducted a twenty-six-piece orchestra efficiently. Company director Andreas Mitisek oversaw stage traffic and designed the costumes, which were handsomely of the period.

LBO has become well known in these parts for the venues it uncovers. Sometimes, they are a delight, but often they have an issue or two that makes them seem not quite right for the enterprise. At the Centinela Valley Arts Center it was a very loud air conditioning system, which put a pall on all the softer passages in the opera.  — Timothy Mangan 

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