Marina Harris sings Magda in BxO’s The Consul

Well, Marina arrived in one piece, apologetic, of course, but “Welcome, a pleasure to speak with you,” I said, “we’ll do the whole thing one on one!” Which we did. I had the set of questions in hand…

Marina Boudart Harris (MBH) alternates with Mary-Hollis Hundley in the central role of Magda in the Bronx Opera’s production of Gian Carlo Menotti’s The Consul. Ms. Harris sings the role tomorrow, Sunday, January 13, at 2:30 and again on Friday, January 18, at 7:30. All performances are at Lehman College in the Bronx.

OperaMetro (OM): Thank you for coming, Marina!

MBH: Sorry I was late. The trains were running slow.

OM: Happens. Nice that you called so I could wait.

MBH: I appreciate it, thanks.

OM: Let’s talk about Magda, your approach to the role, how you prepare for the role …that sort of stuff.

Marina Harris to sing Magda in  The Consul  with the Bronx Opera

Marina Harris to sing Magda in The Consul with the Bronx Opera

MBH: Delighted to do so. Magda is a particularly challenging role in nearly every respect. It’s vocally demanding, requires a large voice that can project over heavy orchestration, and the music is extremely difficult. But the real challenge, I find, is in the acting, and raising the stakes in each scene higher and higher as the drama unfolds. Personally, that’s why I love the role, because while Magda is an unbelievably strong woman, she’s not all that different from you or me. But here she’s been pushed to extremes by her circumstances.

OM: In the earlier interview I asked Mary-Hollis about the trajectory of Magda’s emotional arc. What’s your take on that arc?

MBH: Emotionally speaking, Magda goes from being frustrated and afraid to having a complete psychological breakdown. Much of that emotional journey is sparked by events that happen onstage, and so that makes her moments of reflection very clear and illuminated. I see the tipping point in her mental state as the moment her baby dies, one of the most powerful scenes in the opera. We then watch her go through all of the stages of grief, while trying to hold together what family she has left, and eventually it becomes just too much for her to bear.

OM: The emotional arc is not just in the text and action, but also in the music.

MBH: Oh my yes! Menotti writes absolutely haunting music for Magda’s suicidal moments and her death. She never says outright that she intends to take her own life, but one can hear musically when she makes that choice.

OM: What experiences you draw from to get into a role like this. The world around us today must be full of situations like Magda’s.   

MBH: Obviously, the obstacles that characters face in The Consul are extremely similar to what’s happening in our country at this very moment. Immigrants, refugees, leaving oppression in their country, apply for legal entrance to the USA, but are separated from family. This and so many other examples around the world are reasons that this role is so meaningful to me.

OM: Hard to avoid the parallels.

MBH: I started offering Magda’s aria “To this we’ve come” for auditions in 2016, a few months before the presidential election. I felt the aria was an important addition to my repertory. I’ve always loved Menotti’s music, and it was timely. But after the election, the experience changed completely. At first it was much harder to sing, because my own fears were so wrapped up in the subtext. What if I lose my health insurance? What if family members or colleagues of mine are deported? But in a way, that made it more of a challenge, and to get lost in that subtext is an incredibly cathartic experience. Now, when I sing the aria, it feels therapeutic. I can channel whatever outrage I’m feeling into my performance.

OM: Life and art merge.

MBH: There are those who would argue that artists should keep their personal politics to themselves, but frankly, I’m not sure how anyone could approach a piece like this and not have their opinions come into play.

OM: Have you performed with BxO before?

MBH: No, this is my first experience with the company.

OM: All good?

MBH: Absolutely! I love this company and the people that work here. Very embracing.

OM: Looking forward, what are your dream roles to take on and conquer?

MBH: I personally love the Wagner and Strauss heroines, perhaps to a fault. Sieglinde is pretty much at the top of my list.

OM: Hmmmm. Sounds familiar.

MBH: I love in Brooklyn, I love art, but I also run a group called Performing Artists for Progress, dedicated to promoting social justice issues through performance and collaboration.

OM: Sounds like The Consul is a perfect fit on many levels.

MBH: Indeed.

OM: Marina, thank you for making coming all the way up here to do this. It’s been a pleasure talking to you!

MBH: And to you! Hope you enjoy the opera!

OM: Shall do so.

The Bronx Opera’s production of The Consul opens today, Saturday, January 12, at the Lovinger Theatre of Lehman College in the Bronx. Eric Kramer conducts all peformances; Rod Gomez directs; sets and costumes are by Meganne George; lighting is by Joshua Rose. There are a total of four performances in two weekends with alternating casts. Mary-Hollis Hundley is Magda, curtain at 7:30 p.m. With her is Jeremy Moore as John, Magda’s husband. His Mother is played by Caroline Tye, the Secretary is Cara Search, the Secret Police Agent is Joseph Gansert, the Magician is Daniel Foltz-Morrison, Vera is Amy Maude Helfer, Kofner is Ben Hoyer, the Foreign Woman is Leslie Swanson, Anna Gomez is Francesca Federico, and Assan is sung by Conrad Schmechel. This cast performs again, the last of the run, on Saturday, January 19 at 2:30 p.m.

The second performance of The Consul is this Sunday, January 13 at 2:30 p.m. Marina Harris sings Magda. With her is Markel Reed as John; his Mother is Allison Gish, the Secretary is Mary Beth Nelson, the Secret Police Agent is Wil Kellerman, the Magician is Stephen Steffens, Vera is Jackie M. Hayes, Kofner is Michael Cofield, the Foreign Woman is Miriam Chaudoir, Anna Gomez is Aida Carducci, and Assan is again sung by Conrad Schmechel. This cast performs The Consul again on Friday evening, January 18 at 7:30 p.m.

The ticket link for all performances is: https://bronxconsul.brownpapertickets.com

All good! It’s a great American opera! Don’t miss it.

OM