While I was aware that the 1960 television production of Gian-Carlo Menotti’s opera The Consul was released on DVD by VAI, I didn’t know until very recently that they also released a 2-CD soundtrack recording of the telecast. A 2-LP original cast album was made by Decca in 1949 and languished in the vaults for many years. The good news, it’s also been made available on CD, in a boxed set including Menotti’s two other operas, The Medium and The Telephone. The bad news – they are not officially remastered by the original recording companies and editorial reviews comment on their lack of good sound quality. (Come on, Decca. Get on the ball!)
As I listened to the stirring, haunting score I read through the brief liner notes and found this recollection of the original show by the star Patricia Neway.
This is what the acclaimed soprano had to say about The Consul:
The experience of preparing and presenting The Consul was unique. The opera was produced on Broadway with the usual schedule of eight performances of a week and was called a musical drama instead of an opera in order not to discourage a broad audience.
After Gian-Carlo chose his singers there were backers’ auditions in which several cast members did scenes without sets or costumes. Guests were invited as prospective backers to the homes of prominent people who hosted the evenings. It was exciting and challenging for all of us. I have one vivid memory – Gian-Carlo handing me a penciled musical manuscript and telling me that I was to sing it at the next backers’ audition two days later. It happened to be at the home of Virgil Thomson, the composer and formidable critic on the Herald Tribune, at his apartment in New York City’s historic Chelsea Hotel. The first line of the manuscript read “To this we’ve come,” Magda’s aria at the end of the second act! I didn’t have time to absorb all that I was dealing with, but when I finished singing it I was trembling from head to toe. It was my first realization of what a powerfully moving role I had been trusted with and what a remarkable work The Consul was.
When we started regular rehearsals with the whole cast, we had the privilege of working with Gian-Carlo as composer and director. It was inspiring to have his genius guiding us. As we got close to opening, my colleagues and I would discuss what we thought was ahead of us. Many thought that we would have an artistic success but only a moderately successful run considering the seriousness of The Consul’s subject matter and its tragic outcome.
On opening night there were no questions anymore. The opera was a phenomenal success – the ovation after Magda’s second act aria seemed to go on forever – the reviews were ecstatic – there were awards and accolades – but most of all there were those people from the audience who came backstage with tear-stained faces to thank me for telling their story. The more we performed The Consul the more I realized it was, above all, a work of enormous compassion and depth.
It is impossible for me to express what a rich experience The Consul has been for me through the years, or to thank Gian-Carlo enough for the privilege of creating his first Magda.
To this day I meet people who saw it and tell me how much The Consul moved them. That generation is passing and I am deeply grateful to VAI for releasing this video so that future generations can experience this enduring work.
-Patricia Neway, 2004