OP2075. THE CONSUL, recorded 1950, w.Lehman Engel Cond. Patricia Neway, Cornell MacNeil, Marie Powers, Gloria Lane, etc.; AMELIA AL BALLO, recorded 1954, w.Sanzogno Cond. La Scala Ensemble; Margherita Carosio, Rolando Panerai & Giacinto Prandelli (both Menotti). (Germany) 2-Naxos 8.112023/24. Transfers by Mark Obert-Thorn. - 636943202371
“The nearest antecedent to Menotti’s opera THE CONSUL is Kurt Weill’s STREET SCENE. Both are through-composed operatic works and both have strong influences from American popular music. Weill wrote STREET SCENE for Broadway and wholeheartedly embraced both popular music and the vulgarity of Broadway. Menotti didn’t and in later life seems to have been not a little embarrassed by his highly coloured opera. Where Weill channels the music of Broadway shows, Menotti channels the sound-tracks of Hollywood films. The sheer melodic fecundity, highly-coloured realism and a confident reliance on operatic ensembles mark the opera out from many operatic works from the 1950s
THE CONSUL is American Film Noir come to musical life; you could imagine the work as a 1940s Hollywood film. In fact, Menotti’s skills as a dramatist led to a contract with MGM to produce screenplays; none was in fact filmed but one became THE CONSUL. What makes it work is that it is a rattlingly good tale, well told. The work was written in the 1940s and was Menotti’s first full-length opera. He wrote his own libretto and the piece is full of the overtones of McCarthy era America and the Iron Curtain. Interestingly, Menotti wanted Maria Callas in the rôle of Magda Sorel, which would have been fascinating to say the least.
On the set under review, Naxos has usefully re-issued the opera’s first recording, from 1950, in fact made just a month after work’s pre-Broadway tryout in Philadelphia. The work was recorded with extremely close miking and the result is very dry and has a profoundly period feel. In fact it feels like a radio play, albeit one that is sung. But what we gain is dramatic immediacy in a performance which is vividly unselfconscious, with all the singers providing a vital response to the words. Patricia Neway (Magda) sang the rôle at the Philadelphia tryouts and on Broadway. A number of other members of the cast were also present at these early run-throughs and at the première. This involvement shows in their interaction and strong ensemble. Patricia Neway is an involving and poignant Magda, giving us an emotional climax at the end of Act 2 and tugging the heart-strings in Act 3 when she commits suicide. Marie Powers provides able support as the Mother, with her own telling moment as she sings a lullaby to the dying baby. And Gloria Lane is impressive as the Secretary. The remaining cast are equally strong.
The companion work is the 1954 recording of Menotti’s first opera, AMELIA AL BALLO. This is a charming piece of fluff which rather reminded me of some of Wolf-Ferrari’s comedies and is an entirely enchanting filler.”
- Robert Hugill, MusicWeb International, Feb., 2011
“This first recording of THE CONSUL (retaining the original cast), in its first outing on CD, effectively invites listeners to paint pictures in their minds, to create sets, costumes and lighting, and to direct the opera for themselves. This is due to Menotti’s sure sense of theatre, his filmic use of the orchestra, and also to the superb performance preserved here, the singers, each with superb enunciation setting down confidently their experiences of having performed in a fully-staged production and no doubt basking in the enthusiastic first night reviews that greeted the work. Menotti’s creative style is symbiosis of parlando and full-blown melody (Menotti a successor of Puccini, but not aping him for the sake of it). This very sympathetic rendition, embracing some composer-approved cuts, is captured in immediate sound that offers a small theatre perspective and complements the claustrophobic atmospheric of the scenario.”
- Colin Anderson, CLASSICAL RECORDINGS QUARTERLY, Autumn, 2010
"Patricia Neway, an opera singer who won a Tony in 1960 for her role as the Mother Abbess in the original Broadway production of THE SOUND OF MUSIC, died on Jan. 24 at her home in East Corinth, Vt. She was 92.
A dramatic soprano praised for the intensity of both her voice and her acting, Ms. Neway was known as an interpreter of new work by 20th-century composers. She was also one of relatively few singers of her era to move seamlessly back and forth between the opera house and the Broadway stage. She had a long association with Gian Carlo Menotti. As Magda Sorel, the oppressed heroine of his opera THE CONSUL, in its original production, Ms. Neway drew glowing notices from critics and thundering ovations from audiences.
Ms. Neway, who with her pale skin, lush dark hair and strong features cut a striking presence on opera and recitals stages worldwide, was a principal singer with the New York City Opera from 1951 to 1966.
Her rôles with the company included Leah in the world première of THE DYBBUK, by David and Alex Tamkin, and the Mother in the world premiere of Hugo Weisgall’s SIX CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF AN AUTHOR, as well as Marie in Alban Berg’s WOZZECK; the Governess in THE TURN OF THE SCREW, by Benjamin Britten; and Laura Gates in Mark Bucci’s TALE FOR A DEAF EAR, the story of a disintegrating marriage.
Patricia Mary Neway was born on 30 Sept., 1919, in Brooklyn and reared on Staten Island. Her father was a printer who had sung briefly in vaudeville; as a girl, Patricia studied the piano. Fittingly, given her Tony-winning Broadway rôle, she was encouraged to pursue a singing career by the mother superior of her high school. The young Ms. Neway earned a bachelor’s degree from Notre Dame College of Staten Island, with a major in sciences and a minor in mathematics. She later studied voice privately and at the Mannes Music School, as it was then known. Ms. Neway made her professional opera début in 1946, singing Fiordiligi in Mozart’s COSÌ FAN TUTTE with the Chautauqua Opera. Among the other companies with which she sang was the Opéra-Comique of Paris.
But it was as Magda in THE CONSUL that she made her reputation. A three-act opera written for Broadway, THE CONSUL unfolds in a nameless European dictatorship. Magda, a dissident’s wife, tries repeatedly to secure permission for her family to leave but meets only frustration, red tape and ultimately tragedy. The opera had its world première in Philadelphia in March 1950 before moving to the Ethel Barrymore Theater in New York later that month. As was widely reported, Ms. Neway’s long aria, ‘To This We’ve Come’, sung in Act 2 as Magda rages against the consul’s secretary, brought down the house nearly every night. She reprised the rôle many times around the world, including at City Opera. THE CONSUL, which won the 1950 Pulitzer Prize for music, was recorded for television in 1960. The telefilm, starring Ms. Neway and long presumed lost, was rediscovered after many years and released on DVD in 2004.
Ms. Neway appeared next on Broadway in 1958, singing the rôle of the Mother in Menotti’s opera MARIA GOLOVIN. She returned two years later in THE SOUND OF MUSIC, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s hit show about the Trapp family’s flight from Nazi Europe. For her performance, which included the anthem ‘Climb Ev’ry Mountain’, Ms. Neway received the Tony for best featured actress in a musical.
Ms. Neway’s first marriage, to Morris Gesell, a singer and vocal coach, ended in divorce; her second husband, John Francis Byrne, died in 2008.
Her recordings include music by Menotti and Samuel Barber. In the late 1950s and ’60s she directed her own chamber opera company in New York — originally called the Patricia Neway Opera Workshop and later the Neway Opera Theater — devoted to contemporary works.
For all the ovations she received as Magda, Ms. Neway said that the greatest tributes came after the curtain went down. The original Broadway production of THE CONSUL was staged just five years after the end of World War II, a fact of which those in the theater were painfully aware.
‘There were awards and accolades’, she said in 2004. ‘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’.”
- Margalit Fox, THE NEW YORK TIMES, 5 Feb., 2012