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Opera Review (LA): Il Postino by Daniel Catan at the LA Opera

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LA Opera and Placido Domingo are on a roll. First the enormous accomplishment of presenting a complete and original Wagner’s Ring Cycle. This was met with both boos and bravos though in the end the bravos won the day, once audiences got over the shock of Achim Fryer’s design; the daring and innovative production set a new standard for the LA Opera.

The company has followed this up with a rarity in the world of opera, a new complete and modern opera. Il Postino is based on the highly successful film by Michael Radford that had been nominated for five Academy Awards. In turn, the movie was based on Antonio Skarmeta’s 1985 novel Ardiente Paciencia. Composer and librettist Daniel Catan used both of these sources to create this premiere.

For Mr. Catan, the story “deals with Art and Love: the foundations upon which we build our lives. And Opera is one of the most complete art forms ever imagined, for it includes music and poetry.” Il Postino is a natural for operatic treatment being based on the life and poetry of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda. Placido Domingo, inspired by the previous work of Daniel Catan (Florencia en el Amazonas for the LA Opera in 1997), and a champion of all things South American, loved and admired Neruda and wanted very much to create the role in this new and stunning opera.

Domingo assembled a perfect creative team for this endeavor. Scenic and costume designer Riccardo Hernandez, known for his minimalist and suggestive design work, undertook the design here. His design is simple but quite effective and beautiful, a welcome relief after the excesses (perhaps needful) of Freyer’s Ring. Hernandez uses a simple platform on which he creates, with a few set pieces, Neruda’s living room, garden, a café, and the sea. The stage floor is decorated with gorgeous tiles. Phillip Bussman provides projections of the ocean, Chilean demonstrations, the moon, and a starry night for the lovers. Jennifer Tipton creates some simple but poetic lighting.

The cast is first rate. Domingo shines in his new baritone range as Neruda. His baritone is highlighted by some of the lyricism of his tenor range and is really very moving. The young postman who desires to be a poet is a brilliant Charles Castronovo, his voice and performance a match for Domingo. Christina Gallardo-Domas as Matilde, Amanda Squitieri as the love interest Beatrice, and Nancy Fabiola Herrera as the meddling Aunt of Beatrice all are in splendid voice. Vladimir Chernov is the Communist head of the two-person post office and Jose Adan Perez is the right–wing politician who nearly destroys the village with his campaign tactics. Grant Gershon does a smash-up job of conducting this very lyrical score with a mixture of passion and restraint.

Il Postino plays at the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavillion until Oct. 16th. There were special screened showings of a recorded performance of La Opera’s Il Postino in Orange County and in Downtown LA on Oct 8th.

Photo credit: Robert Millard / L.A. Opera

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