The Secret Consul
A guerrilla opera based on Gian Carlo Menotti's music drama The Consul
The Wedding Collective
A secret location in Limehouse
This is a 75 minute version of Menotti's Cold War opera from the 1950s staged as a promenade performance at a location in Limehouse which is now revealed as the Old Town Hall in Commercial Road.
It has been edited and its scenes rearranged a little and some music added drawn from the traditional music of some of the performers, Polish and Turkish and perhaps more that I did not recognize. It is not quite Menotti's original plotline but most of the incidents are the same and, although it is not always easy to understand the sung text, the situation of someone arrested by an unnamed country's security police and the predicament of people besieging a consular office in the hope of being granted a visa which will allow them to leave are strongly and dramatically presented.
I remember trying to listen to the original recording of this opera many years ago and finding it very difficult and a later television version I gave up on half way through but our musical tastes develop and this time I found The Secret Consul musically magical, helped enormously by the immediacy and contact of this promenade performance..
It is beautifully sung, especially by Lesya Aleksyeyeva (from Kiev) as Magda, whose mounting tragedy includes a husband arrested, herself questioned and the death of her baby and her mother, whose baby dies, Rita Novikaite (from Lithuania) as that mother and Masami Uehara (from Japan) as the consular secretary who blocks all access to the consul.
It is not only the principals who deliver musically. The chorus of visa applicants are splendid too, handling the complicated five part choruses without a conductor visible, and there are excellent contributions from Xiaoran Wang as the husband and Christopher Whitelock as the Magician who opens the performance with his tricks as the visa applicants wait in the entry hall of the town Hall before leading us upstairs for the other scenes played out in the assembly room upstairs.
Director Stephen Tiller and Musical Director Andrew Charity have done a splendid job in blending musical excellence with dramatic effect. The audience are gently guided by the cast to make the promenade staging work fluidly, Tiller himself sliding into place on the floor to encourage the rest of the audience to do so and make things easier for those behind them to see when appropriate.
You don't have to understand every word to feel the impact of this production and with these performances the music becomes totally accessible, even to those who may not be opera regulars.
"The Secret Consul" is at Limehouse Town Hall until 16th July 2011.
Note that booking is through the Soho Theatre.
Reviewer: Howard Loxton