The Consul comes to Stansbury

26 cast members perform in The Consul, which was written as a statement about Cold War immigration policy.
Amanda Loder

26 cast members perform in The Consul, which was written as a statement about Cold War immigration policy. (Rachel Hoerman)

An American opera is about to take the stage at Lawrence University. The Consul, written by American composer Gian Carlo Menotti, is not your typical opera. Menotti wrote both the libretto and the music in English rather than Italian. The opera debuted at a Broadway theater rather than the New York Metropolitan Opera House.

What makes The Consul particularly unusual is that Menotti wrote it in 1950 in direct response to the inadequacies of Cold War immigration policy. Most striking, however, is how The Consul reflects the present-day political situation.

Professor Timothy X. Troy insists that this opera’s similarity to current international politics is a coincidence; he selected The Consul as the 2003 second term performance last year.

The Consul is the story of Magda Sorel and her family. The Sorels live in an unnamed East European country, and Magda’s husband John is involved in resistance activities against that nation’s regime. Because of John’s activities, the secret police are threatening the family.

In response to the imminent danger of her family, Magda goes to the consulate to get a visa, which would enable her and her family to move to a safe country.

Magda never sees the Consul; he is an invisible force that wields the power to either save Magda and her family or condemn them to death. Troy explains that it is an opera which explores the “tragic consequences of inadequate human rights policies.”

The Consul is a massive undertaking, combining the efforts of faculty and students. There is a double cast of students, including Nicole Messier and Jen Tokarski as Magda and Tim Schmidt and Jacob Allen as John. Between the two casts, the total number of actors is 26.

Two student accompanists, Mike Brody and Abby Birling, assist at rehearsals. Professor Bonnie Koestner is working with the students on music and vocal preparation, Bridget-Michael Reischel is conducting the orchestra during the performance, and Troy is the stage director. Joey Gifford is assisting Troy as the student stage manager.

There are also numerous students working backstage, in the costume and set shop, and with the various aspects of theater design.

Eric Appleton, a guest lighting designer from Chicago, is also participating in the production.

Troy points out that one of the strengths of the production is the skill of the student musicians. The music, Troy explains, is “technically challenging music, more technically difficult than Mozart.” He adds, “Our students are doing it very well.”

The Consul “is really about a struggle for freedom, both personally and politically,” Troy says. “The music and the drama unite to really make us think deeply about these issues.”

The Consul will be performed at Stansbury Theater on Feb. 20 and 21 at 8:00 pm, and Feb. 23 at 3:00 pm.