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Simple Gifts in Life

Los Angeles
Dorothy Chandler Pavilion
09/23/2010 -  and September 29, October 2, 5, 9, 16, 2010
Daniel Catán: Il postino
Charles Castronovo (Mario Ruoppolo), Plácido Domingo (Pablo Neruda), Amanda Squitieri (Beatrice Russo), Cristina Gallardo-Domâs (Matilde Neruda), Vladimir Chernov (Giorgio), Nancy Fabiola Herrera (Donna Rosa), José Adán Pérez (Di Cosimo), Gabriel Lautaro Osuna (Mario’s Father), Christopher Gillett (Priest), Daniel Montenegro (1st Thug), Museop Kim (2nd Thug), Gregorio González (3rd Thug), Daniel Armstrong (4th Thug), Gabriel Reoyo-Pazos (1st Fisherman), Sal Malaki (2nd Fisherman/2nd Angry Voter), Rafael Duran (3rd Fisherman), Abdiel Gonzalez (4th Fisherman/1st Angry Voter), Robert Hovencamp (5th Fisherman/3rd Angry Voter), Clinton Emmanuel (Pablito)
Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus, Grant Gershon (Conductor)
Ron Daniels (Director), Riccardo Hernandez (Scenery and Costume Designer), Jennifer Tipton (Lighting Designer), Philip Bussmann (Projection Designer), David Brindel (Choreographer)

(© Robert Millard)

The year of 1949 is ironic on two fronts. Not only was it was the year that famed poet Pablo Neruda was exiled by the Chilean government for voicing his opposition to the country’s current governmental policies, it was also the year composer Daniel Catán was born. Why is this significant? Sixty one years later we now find Catán’s dream realized on stage in an opera that centers around Neruda himself and a lone postman.

Los Angeles Opera opens its twenty fifth season with the world premiere of Il postino, the story of Mario Ruoppolo, a postman, who delivers mail to Pablo Neruda, discovering along the way the beauty of words that unleash his own affections towards the one he loves while ending in marriage. The story is simple: a lesson of words and metaphors suggest a deeper connection within the souls of mankind. Daniel Catán does a brilliant job in conveying this message through his own libretto and mellifluous orchestration.

Daniel Catán followed his father’s footsteps by learning piano which led him into orchestral and operatic compositions, and Catán was also the first Mexican composer to have operas produced in America. A “United Nations” sort of man, the multi-ethnic Daniel Catán received his schooling in England (University of Sussex and University of Southampton) and in The United States at Princeton University, studying musical composition. His musical style is international. He says, “…one can detect the enormous debt I owe to composers from Monteverdi to Alban Berg.” Indeed, that span is wide and vast. Although one hears snippets of Puccini, Debussy, Strauss and even Stravinsky, Daniel Catán’s music is altogether unique and distinctly refreshing: it takes on a dreamy and ethereal tone, yet it is abruptly punctuated by sudden pops of discordant instrumentation. This is effectively used to accentuate the dialogue.

Il postino is a string of chronological vignettes that moves fluidly and seamlessly, thanks to the talents in the back stage department including Jennifer Tipton’s lighting, Riccardo Hernandez’s scenery, Philip Bussmann’s projections and David Brindel’s choreography, all under the directorship of Ron Daniels. It is evident the group works cohesively and is in sync with one another.

The primary focus of Il postino centers around two accomplished tenors: the incomparable Plácido Domingo as Pablo Neruda and dashing young Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruoppolo, both of whose stature and acting abilities are eerily reminiscent of those characters found in the 1994 Michael Radford movie. The passion in Domingo’s singing is deep and romantic as he tastefully disrobes (quite literally and poetically) his wife, Matilde, sung by the talented Chilean Christina Gallardo-Domâs, all in the name of poetic beauty. This scene soon moves into a lesson of metaphors with Domingo showing the naďve mail carrier the power of beautiful phrases and words. As the words are sung, Philip Bussmann does an exceptionally fine job in projecting these Spanish “palabras” (words) in perfect unison, scripted in Neruda’s penmanship.

The word “blue” is used many times in the libretto, and this color theme is carried through in Jennifer Tipton’s pleasantly bathed hues of the primary color that also help bring to life the wonderful Andalusian/Moorish-like mosaic flooring and baseboard designed by Riccardo Hernandez. Although the scenery is a bit Spartan, it works exceedingly well, balancing nicely with the projections and lighting. Since the time of the opera is circa 1950s, Hernandez’s costuming is thoughtfully reserved, not overly dramatic and period appropriate.

A dash of sassiness is found in Mario Ruoppolo’s wife-to-be, Beatrice Russo, sung by Amanda Squitieri who makes good use of her brassy charm and feistiness and sings with an amorous edge. As Ruoppolo makes “poetic advances” to Beatrice, the couple is under the watchful eye of Donna Rosa, appropriately dressed in black and played by Spanish mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera. She adds a fine touch of motherly instinct and occasional comic relief to the stage.

One of most dramatic tableaux occurs when Mario and Giorgio float in a boat using Neruda’s tape recorder to collect the sights and sounds of the island, Cala di Sotto. As the boat moves (with the aid of two men), Bussmann’s projections return to the screen with a series of waves, cliffs, church bells, and a rising sun that are captivating. This is reinforced by the accompaniment in the pit under the baton of Grant Gershon. It takes one’s breath away. The recording of these sounds around the island brings us back to Neruda’s adage: “Appreciate the simple gifts of life.” Especially moving and emotional are the few remaining bars of the opera that remind us of the ending bars of Richard Strauss’ Ariadne auf Naxos...loving, touching and magical.

Having garnered thunderous applause and a five minute plus standing ovation (especially for Mr. Domingo), the cast is assured of the patrons’ underlying support of Los Angeles Opera. In 1997 Daniel Catán’s best known work, Florencia en el Amazonas, came to Los Angeles. This year is the innovative score of Il Postino with simple charm. The question remains: “When will Catán return to The City of Angeles?” Although it is uncertain, there is the certainty that Los Angeles Opera will welcome the composer’s future collaborations with open arms.

Christie Grimstad



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