Long Beach Opera’s “The Consul,” directed by Andreas Mitisek played at the Centinela Valley Center for the Arts with three shows through two weekends this month.
The opera depicts the struggle of the average immigrant in the ‘40s struggling to gain entry to the U.S., having to wait in countless waiting rooms and fill out endless paperwork only to be denied by the consulate.
Magda Sorel, played by Patricia Racette, her husband John Sorel played by Justin Ryan and her mother-in-law played by Victoria Livengood live their fairly normal lives in a totalitarian European country. Then one night, John stumbles in with a gunshot wound and tells his family that the secret police busted him and his friends, he must leave the country tonight.
We never find out what he and his friends did to get in trouble with the police, but the word freedom is thrown around quite a bit.
Once John flees the country, Mrs. Sorel is left with her infant and mother-in-law to figure out how to leave her home and join her husband.
This launches us into the main theme of the opera: the grueling process of applying and obtaining a visa. Mrs. Sorel returns to the consulate everyday and sits in waiting rooms only to be told that her paperwork is incomplete, every time for a different reason.
The waiting room is filled with strangers each trying to leave or gain entry to the country for various, heartbreaking reasons. One man is trying to get a work visa, but his pictures are the wrong size. One woman must go take care of her ill daughter, but she does not have the correct paperwork.
Each individual is told coldly by the consulate secretary played by Audrey Babock, that there is nothing she can do. Their sorrows can be heard in every note they sing.
As days pass in the waiting room, it becomes clear that the people waiting are given no empathy, their “name is a number” and their “story is a case.” They sing of their laments day after day, hoping that something will change.
Mrs. Sorel’s window of opportunity is closing as her baby and mother-in-law fall ill and she is being hunted by the secret police. She quickly becomes depressed and anxious for any news of her husband’s safety.
There are multiple scenes where we see Mrs. Sorel tormented in her dreams by images of John being injured or with a woman who makes a single appearance, then is never addressed again. While the dream sequences are visually appealing and offer insight on Mrs. Sorel’s internal struggles, they ultimately derailed the storyline while opening questions that got left unanswered.
Once Mrs. Sorel hears that John is attempting to return to rescue her and in turn, putting his own life in danger, she commits a final acts of desperation in trying to save him, but is too late.
The story and music of “The Consul” was written 70 years ago by Gian Carlo Menotti, an Italian immigrant living in America during the World War II era. He got the inspiration for the opera after reading a New York Times article about a woman who committed suicide after being denied entry to the U.S.
The opera mixes feelings of hopelessness and love while telling the story of the Sorels and every common immigrant attempting to obtain a visa in the ‘40s.
Menotti related to the woman’s story after being labeled an “enemy alien” by the American state, and decided to write the opera to tell people about the struggles immigrants have to endure either leaving or entering a country.
The actors do a great job at making the audience sympathize with them. The people waiting in vain, the mother-in-law who is heartbroken when her grandson dies and even the consulate secretary who grieves for the waiting immigrants after closing each night.
The only people I found myself struggling to feel empathy towards were Mr. and Mrs. Sorel. While their story is captivating, the actual couple did little throughout the show to make convincing spouses who feared for the other’s lives.
What was most moving about the opera were the people in the waiting room, left to wonder when they would ever receive their visas and a way out of the country.
While “The Consul” has finished it’s run, Long Beach Opera’s next production will be a telling of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat,” in January. Tickets range from $49 to $150 based on seating for the general public and $15 for students with a college ID and can be purchased at longbeachopera.org.