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Theatre Review by Lisa Romeo
What: The Consul Gertrude Opera
Where: Fortyfivedownstairs
When: 18th May to 23rd May
Director: Theresa Borg
Conductor: Rick Prakhoff
Set & Costume Designer: Peter Corrigan
Lighting: Greg Carroll
Piano: Katherine Day
Cast of 12 actors and singers
The Consul is a Pulitzer Prize Winning opera written by Gian Carlo Menotti; its first performance was seen in 1950 in Philadelphia and two weeks later it opened in New York City where it enjoyed a successful run of nearly eight months.
The Gertrude Opera welcomes to the stage its own season of The Consul now showing at Fortyfivedownstairs. It may be stripped bare of ornamentation, with no elaborate costumes, no thick, velvet curtains or fancy props, but this English speaking adaptation has all the drama and tragedy expected of an opera - the splendid soprano voices, the expert conducting of Rick Prakhoff and the great acting by a large cast of performers. It doesn’t have an entire symphony orchestra but none the less the piano playing of Katherine Day is so sweet and sublime that it assists the story in all its dark and compelling truths.
The Consul Gertrude Opera is an inventive production that tells the story of ordinary people who are forced into circumstances where they must flee their countries to escape persecution and tyranny. In these desperate times the asylum seekers are faced with the tight controls on the issuing of visas. The bureaucracy is harsh and unfair on these average citizens - the elderly, mothers with new born babies, young teenagers, men - are all dehumanised and become only a number. “Next, next...” yells the stone cold, emotionless administrator processing the paperwork.
Reams and reams of red tape are the hurdles that await the stamp of approval. Long queues, many hours, days, weeks, months, even years pass by and yet the light at the end of the tunnel becomes dimmer; for many optimism and hope can be cruelly shattered. There is no sign of compassion for the ill or dying, nor the separation of loved ones.
For these innocent people the figureless ‘Consul’ is never to be seen; an authority that nobody meets, only an imaginative creature that possesses the grand power to hand out freedom. This opera is grim and disturbing, even more so as it represents our own political policies that are barbaric, where in most cases boat loads of desperate people from all walks of life are not assisted but rejected and treated like prisoners without having committed a crime.
Directed by Theresa Borg the positioning of the actors in long rows and queues are a mere display of layers and layers of misery and suffering. The blank, pale faces of the actors with dark lines under their eyes represent the despair and anguish. The set design by one of Australia’s most celebrated architect and theatre designers, Peter Corrigan, together with the lighting by Greg Carroll, immerse the audience into a world of frustration and fear.
The Consul Gertrude Opera stirs the conscience and promotes a dialogue of awareness of social justice and human rights. It is very relevant to the twentieth century, and with no glorification delivers the realistic and brutal facts of the plight of asylum seekers, down to the battle of red tape for any person trying to apply for a residents’ visa, in any country, on any border. As much as it was an excellent show I am however of the opinion that 2 hours was too long and the message could have been delivered just as effectively in less time.
3.5 stars