Giancarlo Menotti: from The Consul to My Name is: Woman
Papers, papers: The Consul off the stage
– Secretary: “You need to get these papers in your own country in order for us to give you a visa”
– “But…I cannot get my papers in my own country…my country is being bombed as we speak…”
– Secretary: “I’m sorry, but this is none of our concern.”
Such is the reality portrayed in My Name is: Woman. Unfortunately, none of it has been edited for dramatic purposes, as it often happens in theater. A story of consulates, embassies, visas, delays, papers similar in so many aspects to Magda’s in Menotti’s The consul.
The chilling sound of a phone ringing in a house where now no one can answer, sounds, sounds, and then the curtain falls.
There is no happy ending in Giancarlo Menotti‘s opera “The Consul”, an opera for which Menotti won the Pulitzer Prize.
The consul premiered in Philadelphia and New York in 1950 and received an extraordinary welcome. Menotti, who wrote the libretto himself, got the idea for it after having read in the New York Times that a polish immigrant had killed herself in Ellis Island, after having waited for a visa in vain .
Magda Sorel, the main character of the opera, follows the same destiny: waits and waits for a visa, in order to be able to reach her husband John, on the run from the secret police of an unidentified eastern European country behind the iron curtain. In that room at the Consulate, Magda is nothing but a number among other numbers, face to face with a painfully waiting humanity. Desperate after the death of her son and the her husband’s mother, Magda will eventually kill herself.
This is a perfect example of musical theater: text and music are strictly intertwined and interdependent and there’s no room for myths or fairy tales. Everything evolves around a social angle, unfolding through the Chekhovian plot. What interests Menotti is the timeless aspect of the story: a story that can be imagined in Russia, China, Italy, United States, years before and years after 1950.
From the stage back to real life
This is exactly the connection that this opera has to “My Name is: Woman“. Violetta Lazin’s personal story bears many similarities with Magda’s: fleeing her home country to be catapulted in a totally different reality, where the pressing anxiety of waiting for a visa and, later on, a passport builds up over 12 years of papers.
There are no good guys and bad guys here, there are only rules, those who need to abide to them and those who enforce them. There is no sentimentalism or empathy: rules, when detached from a person, are blind and deaf to anything, even war. Magda’s reaction to bureaucracy reaches its climax in her aria, “Papers”, a line from which gives the title to the entire show and is, naturally, part of it.
From Magda’s aria:
What is your name? Magda Sorel
Color of eyes? Color of hair?
Single or married? Religion and race?
Place of birth?
Father’s name, mother’s name?
Papers, papers, papers […]
What is your name?
My name is: Woman
Age: Still young.
Color of hair: Gray.
Color of eyes: The color of tears.