For the past weeks, members of the Opera Theatre Program and University Symphony Orchestra at UNCG have been diligently preparing for this spring’s major opera production, Gian Carlo Menotti’s “The Consul.”
Premiered in 1950, “The Consul” was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for Music. This was Menotti’s first full-length opera and is in three acts. Widely considered to be his best opera, “The Consul” is analogous to how foreign scientists had difficulty entering the United States in the early 1950s.
The opera takes place in an anonymous country under totalitarian rule and tells the story of political runaway John Sorel and his wife, Magda. John is hiding from the police and plans to escape to the border while Magda, his mother and his child attempt to apply for visas to leave the country. As many people are waiting to apply for visas, Magda runs into a lot of difficulty and trouble securing her own, and she ends up not being able to do so. While this was going on, John was waiting impatiently at the border for his wife, and he plans to risk his life in order to return to her. What follows is tension, drama and anguish as they try to reunite and protect one another from danger.
Gian Carlo Menotti was born in 1911, and reached the age of 95 before dying in 2007. Though he was born in Italy, he often referred to himself as an American composer in style and citizenship. He wrote over two dozen operas with the intention to appeal to popular taste, making his works more approachable than many contemporary and historical operas.
His most famous work is the one-act opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” considered a classic and revolutionary work as the first opera to be premiered on television. Associated with the holidays, it became traditional for this opera to be performed and broadcast during the Christmas season every year.
In addition to composing multiple operas, ballets and choral works, Menotti founded the major performing arts festival Spoleto Festival USA, which takes place in nearby Charleston, South Carolina every year. Designed as the counterpart to the Italian Festival dei Due Mondi, the festival takes place in Charleston because Menotti thought it to have the old world charm of Italy. The annual late-spring event lasts 17 days and features over 150 performances of a variety of genres, from opera, to theatre and jazz.
The annual spring opera production is the largest-scale performance for UNCG’s Opera Theatre program each year, and the great effort and collaboration that takes place clearly shows. Since 1993, these productions have frequently won awards in the National Opera Association’s Annual Opera Production Competition, including the productions of recent years, Poulenc’s “Dialogues of the Carmelites” and Glass’s “Galileo Galilei.”
Directed by David Holley, the UNCG Opera Theatre program produces at least four operas annually. These productions feature the collaborative efforts of the strong voice, collaborative piano and instrumental performance programs at UNCG. For instrumentalists playing in the opera pit and providing instrumental accompaniment, opera performance provides a different and educational experience from playing symphonies onstage. The teamwork of singers, instrumentalists and everyone else involved with these productions is what makes the performances so successful. Each year, the major spring opera production is extremely high level and performed to a professional caliber.
UNCG’s production of Menotti’s “The Consul” premieres with a matinee performance the morning of April 5, which functions as a method of outreach to the community, particularly students at Guilford County schools. A major component of the Opera Theatre’s mission is to educate children about opera, and this weekday matinee performance will provide students the opportunity to see the production.
Evening performances run April 6-7, with an afternoon matinee on the 9th. More information can be found online.