Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

An English Winter Journey

Roderick Williams’ and Julius Drake’s English Winter Journey seems such a perfect concept that one wonders why no one had previously thought of compiling a sequence of 24 songs by English composers to mirror, complement and discourse with Schubert’s song-cycle of love and loss.

History Repeating Itself: Prokofiev’s Semyon Kotko, Amsterdam Concertgebouw

A historical afternoon at the NTR Saturday Matinee occurred with an epic concert version of Prokofiev’s Soviet Opera Semyon Kotko.

L’amour de loin at the Metropolitan Opera

Opening night at the Metropolitan is a gleeful occasion even when the composer is long gone, but December 1st was an opening for a living composer who has been making waves around the world and is, gasp, a woman — the second woman composer ever to have an opera presented at the Met.

Early Swedish opera - Stenhammer world premiere

The Feast at Solhaug : Henrik Ibsen's play Gildet paa Solhaug (1856) inspired Wilhelm Stenhammer's opera Gillet på Solhaug. The world premiere recording is now available via Sterling CD, in a 3 disc set which includes full libretto and background history.

La finta giardiniera at the Royal College of Music

For an opera that has never quite made it over the threshold into the ‘canonical’, the adolescent Mozart’s La finta giardiniera has not done badly of late for productions in the UK. In 2014, Glyndebourne presented Frederic Wake-Walker’s take on the eighteen-year-old’s dramma giocoso. Wake-Walker turned the romantic shenanigans and skirmishes into a debate on the nature of reality, in which the director tore off layers of theatrical artifice in order to answer Auden’s rhetorical question, ‘O tell me the truth about love’.

Lust for Revenge: Barenboim and Herlitzius fire up Strauss’s Elektra in Berlin

As the German language describes so beautifully, a “Schrei aus tiefstem Herzen” was felt as Evelyn Herlitzius channelled an Elektra from the depths of her soul.

Semyon Bychkov heading to NYC and DC with Glanert and Mahler

Heading to N.Y.C and D.C. for its annual performances, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra invited Semyon Bychkov to return for his Mahler debut with the Fifth Symphony. Having recently returned from Vienna with praise for their rendition, the orchestra now presented it at their homebase.

Lost Stravinsky re-united with Rimsky-Korsakov, Gergiev, Mariinsky

Igor Stravinsky's lost Funeral Song, (Chante funèbre) op 5 conducted by Valery Gergiev at the Mariinsky in St Petersburg This extraordinary performance was infinitely more than an ordinary concert, even for a world premiere of an unknown work.

Philippe Jaroussky at the Wigmore Hall: Baroque cantatas by Telemann and J.S.Bach

On Tuesday evening this week, I found myself at The Actors Centre in London’s Covent Garden watching a performance of Unknowing, a dramatization of Schumann’s Frauenliebe und Leben and Dichterliebe (in a translation by David Parry, in which Matthew Monaghan directed a baritone and a soprano as they enacted a narrative of love, life and loss. Two days later at the Wigmore Hall I enjoyed a wonderful performance, reviewed here, by countertenor Philippe Jaroussky with Julien Chauvin’s Le Concert de la Loge, of cantatas by Telemann and J.S. Bach.

The new Queen of the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra

Here is one of the next new great conductors. That’s a bold statement, but even the L.A. Times agrees: Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla’s appointment “is the biggest news in the conducting world.” But Ms. Mirga Gražinytė-Tyla will be getting a lot of weight on her shoulders.

Falstaff at Manitoba Opera

Manitoba Opera chose to open its 44th season by going for the belly laughs — literally — as it notably presented its inaugural production of Verdi’s Falstaff.

Gothic Schubert : Wigmore Hall, London

Macabre and moonstruck, Schubert as Goth, with Stuart Jackson, Marcus Farnsworth and James Baillieu at the Wigmore Hall. An exceptionally well-planned programme devised with erudition and wit, executed to equally high standards.

Rusalka, AZ Opera

On November 20, 2016, Arizona Opera completed its run of Antonín Dvořák’s fairy Tale opera, Rusalka. Loosely based on Hand Christian Andersen’s The Little Mermaid, Joshua Borths staged it with common objects such as dining room chairs that could be found in the home of a child watching the story unfold.

First new Ring Cycle in 40 Years, Leipzig

Consistently overshadowed by the neighboring Bayreuth, the far less stuffy Oper Leipzig (Wagner’s birthplace) programmed after forty years their first complete Ring Cycle.

San Jose’s Beta-Carotene Rich Barber

You didn’t have to know the Bugs Bunny oeuvre to appreciate Opera San Jose’s enchanting Il barbiere di Sivigila, but it sure enhanced your experience if you did.

Manon Lescaut at Covent Garden

If there was ever any doubt that Puccini’s Manon is on a road to nowhere, then the closing image of Jonathan Kent’s 2014 production of Manon Lescaut (revived here for the first time, by Paul Higgins) leaves no uncertainty.

Fierce in War, dazzling in Peace: Joyce DiDonato at the Concertgebouw

Many opera singers are careful to maintain an air of political neutrality. Not so mezzo-soprano Joyce DiDonato, who is outspoken about causes she holds dear. Her latest project, a very personal response to the 2015 terror attacks in Paris, puts her audience through the emotional wringer, but also showers them with musical rewards.

Walter Braunfels Orchestral Songs Vol 2

Honours yet again to Oehms Classics who understand the importance of excellence. A composer as good, and as individual, as Walter Braunfels deserves nothing less.

Simplicius Simplicissimus

I wonder if Karl Amadeus Hartmann saw something of himself in the young Simplicius Simplicissimus, the eponymous protagonist of his three-scene chamber opera of 1936. Simplicius is in a sort of ‘Holy Fool’ who manages to survive the violence and civil strife of the Thirty Years War (1618-48), largely through dumb chance, and whose truthful pronouncements fall upon the ears of the deluded and oppressive.

Lucia di Lammermoor at Lyric Opera of Chicago

For its second opera of the 2016-17 season Lyric Opera of Chicago has staged Gaetano Donizetti’s Lucia di Lammermoor in a production seen at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and the Grand Théâtre de Genève.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

Placido Domingo as Pablo Neruda and Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Matilde Neruda [Photo by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera]
24 Oct 2010

Il Postino at Los Angeles Opera

An American opera house premieres a new work by a Mexico-born composer, to his own libretto in Spanish based on a film in Italian by an English director about an unlikely friendship the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda found when in exile on a small Italian island.

Daniel Catán: Il Postino

Pablo Neruda: Plácido Domingo; Mario Ruoppolo: Charles Castronovo; Beatrice Russo: Amanda Squitieri; Matilde Neruda: Cristina Gallardo-Domas; Donna Rosa: Nancy Fabiola Herrera; Giorgio: Vladimir Chernov. Conductor: Grant Gershon. Director: Ron Daniels. Scenery and Costumes Designer: Riccardo Hernandez. Los Angeles Opera.

Above: Placido Domingo as Pablo Neruda and Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Matilde Neruda

All photos by Robert Millard courtesy of Los Angeles Opera

 

Such wonderfully polyglot origins promise a more original and creative opera that Daniel Catán’s Il Postino turns out to be (Catán chose to keep the original Italian title). However, with Placido Domingo’s starpower and an endearing portrayal of the title character by Charles Castronovo, the Los Angeles Opera audience on the second night of the opera’s premiere run found much to applaud.

Catán is best known for Florencia en el Amazonas, his 1996 work that has enjoyed a fair number of performances since its debut, although a house as prestigious as the Metropolitan Opera, for example, seems to have no interest. Reviews of Catán’s music for his latest work still rely on comparisons to more famous composers for reference. The strongest element of Il Postino’s score is rhythmic; Catán often employs unusual meters and phrasing that give a sort of stutter-step feel to some of the music. His orchestration is colorful, if somewhat reliant on string outpourings at moment of dramatic and romantic effusion. Somehow he manages the trick of writing music with a melodic tinge without actually creating any strong melodic ideas. An impassioned rising motif that slowly resolves to the tonic pops up fairly frequently in the score, especially in the music for Mario Ruoppolo, the title character. Unfortunately, this one bit really does sound like Puccini - specifically, like a phrase from the score for La Rondine. Other than that, it’s wrong to call Catán’s music Puccini-esque - Catán has neither the melodic facility or grasp of using music to push the drama forward, rather than merely underscore it. If comparisons must be made, your reviewer heard a fair amount of Copland-like dance rhythms and sparse but attractive harmonies.

But his music is stronger than his libretto. The first two acts were given without intermission, and Catán chose to follow a screenplay’s quick changing scene formulation. So first we meet Mario at his humble home, and then from backstage a simple set rolls out depicting Neruda’s home in exile. This happened over and over, while a rather banal love story for Mario and a superfluous subplot about a corrupt politician and the island’s water supply interrupt the growing bond between the famous poet and his naive but charming postman. The last act’s storytelling really gets crude, with Vladimir Chernov’s Giorgio running on every couple minutes with some news about Neruda’s travels away from the island, and even a couple of awkward news-reel interpolations.

Still, by the time of the final scene, some emotional weight has been earned, and when the regretful Neruda is joined on stage by Mario (even though the character has died off stage at this point), most any viewer will be moved. Catán’s music is also at its best here - he stops trying to force a climax and lets the gentle story end with some lovely soft singing from the two male leads.

Domingo was excellent in the role of Neruda, although the lower part of his voice was surprisingly weak, given his recent forays into baritone territory. Catán gives all the main characters aria-like moments, and Domingo’s Neruda starts off with a hymn to his wife’s naked body. In fact, Neruda in the opera comes off as more than a bit self-involved and self-pleased, making Mario’s affection for the famous older man seem just a bit odd and obsessive. Nonetheless, Charles Castronovo, light-voiced though he may be, made his simple, love-besotted postman a real figure. The original casting had set Rolando Villazon for the role, who might well have covered the character's pathos with on-stage hi-jinks. As Mario’s love interest Beatrice, Amanda Squitieri sang out, sometimes covering her tenor co-star. Her opening aria, a self-introduction, is one of Catán’s weaker moments - dramatically inept and unmemorable musically. Cristina Gallardo-Domas has little to do as Neruda’s wife, and Nancy Fabiola-Herrera, as Beatrice’s gun-toting mama, got a few laughs.

pstn5103.gifAmanda Squitieri as Beatrice and Charles Castronovo as Mario Ruoppolo

Conductor Grant Gershon managed the trickier rhythms of the score well. Director Ron Daniels couldn’t do much to ameliorate the wearing effect of the frequent scene changes, but he did elicit strong acting performances from the singers. Riccardo Hernandez created some nice costumes, but Los Angeles Opera’s budget restraints didn’t give him much to work with. In act three the budget seems to have run out altogether; other than a ridiculous set of pipes for the promised water system, the act mostly plays out on a bare stage, with some unimpressive projections and newsreel footage (designed by Philip Bussmann).

If Domingo chooses to, he can take Il Postino around the world to some of the more prestigious opera houses. It’s certainly a pleasant show, even a crowd-pleaser. But the opera’s long-term prospects don’t seem any more promising than those, say, of the U.S. Postal Service.

Chris Mullins

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):