First-Year Arts Immersion: 'The Consul'

The Consul - Gian Carlo Menotti’s opera about a freedom fighter and his family attempting to flee oppression in the face of unrelenting bureaucracy - is perhaps as resonant today as when it premiered on Broadway in 1950, winning both the Pulitzer Prize and the New York Drama Critics’ Circle award for best musical.

On Oct. 22, nearly 2,000 University of Dayton students will attend the Dayton Opera’s performance of The Consul at the Schuster Performing Arts Center in downtown Dayton as part of the University’s First-Year Arts Immersion. Additional Consul-related campus and community events are scheduled during September and October.

Now in its fifth year, the arts immersion is a partnership with the Dayton Performing Arts Alliance that invites faculty teaching introductory English, history, philosophy and religious studies courses to incorporate specific themes and ideas related to the arts event into their classrooms.

The initiative creates a common reference point across the curriculum and also celebrates the way in which art provides insight into the human experience, said Aili Bresnahan, assistant professor of philosophy and Humanities Commons coordinator.

The Humanities Commons creates a foundation for learning in the rest of the University’s Common Academic Program, which calls on students to integrate what they learn by requiring them to take courses that intentionally cross disciplinary boundaries and incorporate relevant non-classroom experiences.

“Besides getting students out into the community, an arts event is often something that has different points of connection for these four academic disciplines, especially if it has political content like this,” Bresnahan said. “It creates common ground to find out what these disciplines have in common and also what they’re doing differently.”

The overarching theme of this year’s arts immersion is “hospitality,” and The Consul helps viewers to consider the meaning of this word by considering what happens when hospitality is lacking.

Menotti’s first full-length opera is set in an unnamed European totalitarian state and follows political dissident John Sorel, who is on the run from secret police. He plans to flee for the border and tells his wife, Magda, to apply for a visa to leave the country with their child and his mother. Magda goes to the consul’s office, where the indifferent secretary tells her to wait with a host of other applicants, saying she can’t guarantee anyone will receive their visas.

“That story is so politically charged and so poignant for us all today,” said Thomas Bankston, Dayton Opera artistic director. “It begs the question, what motivates someone to choose to take a chance in a new country, either legally or illegally, and what are the challenges of people who are granted visas or citizenship?”

Bresnahan said one of the possible outcomes of attending this opera is to create a sense of empathy among students, some of whom have come from other countries to attend the University. The opera’s theme connects to Dayton’s designation as the first certified “Welcome City” in the U.S., reflecting the city’s inclusiveness and integration of immigrants. It also touches on current political debates involving refugees and border security.

“It’s definitely something we want students to think about in terms of being citizens of the world and a community,” Bresnahan said. “What kinds of principles do we want to strive for as far as hospitality and what are the costs of inhospitality — but without trying to indoctrinate anyone into one idea of how that would work, and leaving room for discussion and diverse viewpoints within the classrooms and among faculty, too.”

The Consul’s cast includes department of music faculty members Andrea Chenoweth, Minnita Daniel-Cox and Ryu-Kyung Kim. Associate professor of music Patrick Reynolds will conduct the orchestra. The opera will be performed in English, with English surtitles above the stage.

Sharon Gratto, Graul Chair in the Arts and Languages, will lead a panel, “How to Listen to an Opera,” with Bankston and music department faculty at 2:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 27, in the Sears Recital Hall of the Jesse Philips Humanities Center on campus.

Gratto also will present Menotti and More, a voice recital of Menotti’s operas and related works at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 29, in the Sears Recital Hall. The latter event features The Consul’s principal singers, soprano Kara Shay Thomson (Magda Sorel) and baritone Tyler Alessi (John Sorel), along with the faculty cast members.

“Immigration, Human Rights and The Consul: A Community Conversation” is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 4, at the International Peace Museum, 208 W. Monument Ave., in Dayton. Hosts Patrick Reynolds and Kevin Kelly, the museum’s media director, will look at the opera’s depiction of immigrants and refugees and also invite audience members to share their own family stories.

The Consul T-shirts, featuring a logo designed by University alumnus Hannah Gorski ’17, are available for purchase at the UD Bookstore. Ten percent of the proceeds go to the Catholic Social Services of the Miami Valley refugee fund.

Faculty will distribute arts immersion event tickets to students during classes. Student bus transportation from Lot C to the Schuster Center will be provided starting at noon. The 3 p.m. performance will be preceded by a food truck rally at Courthouse Square.

The First-Year Arts Immersion is sponsored by the College of Arts and Sciences, the Office of the Provost and the Office of the President. Past arts immersion experiences have included Dayton Opera’s production of Dead Man Walking, Dayton Ballet’s performance of Romeo and Juliet, and Dayton Philharmonic performances of The Rite of Spring and The Garden of Cosmic Speculation.

For more information, please visit the arts immersion website.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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