Tyranny with a musical score


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The stage is dry, gray. But then there’s a lighting change. The characters transform from everyday, normal people to monsters. This is the beginning of the nightmare scene. 

The Consul, an opera by Gian Carlo Menotti, will play at Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St., tonight through Sunday.

The Consul is set in an unnamed totalitarian country in Europe and tells the story of Magda as she attempts to get a visa to leave the country with her infant son and mother-in-law to join her husband, who has already fled. She encounters various obstacles along the way in the government and in her family. 

“The nightmare scene is one of my favorites in the show,” said Tessa Hoffman, a graduate student in the University of Iowa School of Music. Hoffman plays the role of the Secretary, who acts as the liaison between the country and the people. This surreal scene illustrates how the secretary influences Magda’s life.

“Up to that point, everything is very realistic, and then I get to go outside of the regular human being character to being this nightmarish monster,” Hoffman said. 

Although The Consul is performed in English, she said the show presents the most difficult score she has ever encountered. But stage director Bill Theisen — who has directed more than 100 theater and opera productions across the country and has acted as the UI director of opera since 2013 — said the performers have taken the challenges in stride.

“The greatest pleasure of working on this production of The Consul is witnessing the complete commitment of every student in the cast,” he said. “This is not the easiest work musically or dramatically. 

“Watching these young singing actors dig deep and find the honesty in this exquisite writing makes me incredibly proud to collaborate with each one of them on this stimulating and satisfying project.”

The Consul was written in 1950 and won the New York Drama Critics’ Circle Award for Best Musical as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Music. The opera, although written 64 years ago and set in an unnamed country, draws parallels to today’s society. 

“There are areas of the world where the fight is still happening,” said Janet Ziegler, a doctoral candidate who plays the role of Magda. “The show is starting to pop up in major theaters to remind us all that we are not far from the devastation that happened before, and it wouldn’t take much to put us there again." 

Theisen agreed.

“The themes of The Consul are frighteningly relevant today with the issues of illegal immigration and political oppression happening around the world,” he said. “It has been fascinating exploring this beautifully written musical drama and finding all of the similarities to our modern society.” 

The Consul
Where: Coralville Center for the Performing Arts, 1301 Fifth St. 
When: 8 p.m. today, Friday, & Saturday, 2 p.m. Nov. 9 
Admission: $5 UI students, $10 students/youth, $15 seniors, $20 general public

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