You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Il Postino

L.A. Opera opens the season with a premiere cannily and effectively aimed right at mainstream auds.

Pablo Neruda -  Placido Domingo Mario Ruoppolo -  Charles Castronovo Beatrice Russo -  Amanda Squitieri Matilde Neruda -  Cristina Gallardo-Domâs Donna Rosa -  Nancy Fabiola Herrera Giorgio -  Vladimir Chernov Di Cosimo -  Jose Adan Perez Mario's Father - Gabriel Lautaro Osuna Priest - Christopher Gillett Pablito - Clinton Emmanuel

After blowing a hole in the budget with a controversial Wagner “Ring” cycle in the midst of a sour economy, it would be understandable if the Los Angeles Opera reverted to a holding pattern of bread-and-butter standards this season. But clearly this company and its risk-taking general director Placido Domingo —  in whom the board of directors just expressed its confidence by extending his contract through 2013 —  don’t operate that way. Instead, L.A. Opera opens the 2010-11 season with a world premiere, but one cannily and effectively aimed right at its mainstream audience. The company could use a hit, and judging from the results and the tumultuous response to “Il Postino” (“The Postman”) Thursday night, they may well have one here.

Daniel Catan’s opera was inspired by the multiple Oscar-nominated 1996 film of the same name and the novella “Ardiente Paciencia” by Antonio Skarmeta. Ultimately, the film had a much greater influence, for the opera follows the movie’s storyline (which is somewhat different than the book), adopts its locale (a fictitious Italian island rather than one in Chile), its time period (the early 1950s rather than the Allende-era ’70s), and its title (even though the opera is sung in Spanish).

Yet the opera has more of a political slant than the film, playing up the character of the famed Chilean poet/activist Pablo Neruda and his role as mentor to the shy young postman Mario Ruoppolo who wants to woo a barmaiden. Enter Domingo as Neruda — a character that, at 69, he inhabits to the manner born. He gets to be an avuncular role model for Mario, a mature yet passionate lover, a fervent Chilean patriot — and in the end, when learning of Mario’s death in a political riot, he conveys devastating stoicism.

Fortunately, “Il Postino” is far more than just a backdrop for the celebrity tenor’s 134th role. The piece has heart and a sturdy structure, with short scenes and deft set changes with sliding backdrops, rolling platforms and projected images making for smooth transitions. Acts I and II run together in 88 uninterrupted minutes — a long haul, but one doesn’t feel any fatigue.

Catan proudly wears his stripes as a composer who writes in a lush, Romantic, Puccini-esque manner in the 21st century, with especially grateful writing for the voice. Yet he also shares with Puccini a sense of humor and contrast, punctuating the Neruda/Mario scenes with funny accents in the muted brass. This is new music written for a general opera audience that still flocks to “La Boheme” and “Madama Butterfly,” but it doesn’t overdo the sentimentality and even possesses passages of eloquent beauty, like the instrumental prelude to Act III.

The cast is strong and well-balanced; even the somewhat daring idea of casting Mario as a tenor alongside the great Domingo works because this Mario (Charles Castronovo) has the vocal goods to provide a credible foil as his character grows as a poet and as a man. After some early imbalances between the voices and orchestra were smoothed out, Grant Gershon conducted with sweep and grace. And in a tribute to the strength of this new work, the loudest ovation at the curtain call went to the composer.

Il Postino

Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, 3,098 seats, $20-$240

Production: A Los Angeles Opera world premiere production of an opera in three acts, with music and libretto by Daniel Catán, based on the book "Ardiente Paciencia" by Antonio Skarmeta and the film "Il Postino" by Michael Radford. Directed by Ron Daniels.

Creative: Scenery and Costume Designs, Riccardo Hernandez. Lights, Jennifer Tipton. Projection design, Philip Bussman. Choreography, David Bridel. Los Angeles Opera Orchestra and Chorus conducted by Grant Gershon. Reviewed September 23, 2010, closes October 16. Running time: 2 hours and 45 minutes.

Cast: Pablo Neruda -  Placido Domingo Mario Ruoppolo -  Charles Castronovo Beatrice Russo -  Amanda Squitieri Matilde Neruda -  Cristina Gallardo-Domâs Donna Rosa -  Nancy Fabiola Herrera Giorgio -  Vladimir Chernov Di Cosimo -  Jose Adan Perez Mario's Father - Gabriel Lautaro Osuna Priest - Christopher Gillett Pablito - Clinton Emmanuel

More Legit

  • 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama' Review

    L.A. Theater Review: 'Black Super Hero Magic Mama'

    What function do superhero stories play in American society? Are they merely escapist distractions for head-in-the-clouds teens, or could those same formats actually serve a practical function, providing useful tools for everyday life? Recognizing these comic book fantasies as by far the dominant form of contemporary mythmaking for a generation of young people, emerging playwright [...]

  • Danielle Brooks'Ain't Too Proud - The

    How 'Orange Is the New Black' Star Danielle Brooks Became a Broadway Producer

    Danielle Brooks earned a Tony nomination when she made her Broadway debut as Sofia in the 2015 revival of “The Color Purple,” but now the “Orange Is the New Black” star is working behind the scenes as a producer on the new jukebox musical “Ain’t Too Proud: The Life and Times of the Temptations.” “I [...]

  • Ain't Too Proud review

    Broadway Review: 'Ain't Too Proud'

    In the wake of the long-running “Jersey Boys” and the short-lived “Summer,” director Des McAnuff is back on Broadway with another show built around the song catalog of a music act — and although “Ain’t Too Proud” has all the right sounds and slick moves, this bio-musical of the R&B vocal group the Temptations is [...]

  • 'White Noise' Theater Review: Suzan-Lori Parks

    Off Broadway Review: Daveed Diggs in 'White Noise'

    Any new play by the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks (“Topdog / Underdog”) demands — and deserves — attention. And in its premiere production at the Public Theater, her latest, “White Noise,” opens with a burst of brainy energy that lasts through the first act. But it takes a nosedive in the sloppy second half, [...]

  • Alexander Dinelaris

    'Jekyll and Hyde' Movie in the Works Based on Broadway Musical

    The Broadway musical “Jekyll and Hyde” is getting the movie treatment from Academy Award winner Alexander Dinelaris. Dinelaris, who is writing and producing the adaptation, won an Oscar for the “Birdman” script and was a co-producer on “The Revenant.” He is producing “Jekyll and Hyde” as the first project under his New York-based development company, [...]

  • Sam Mendes

    Listen: The 'Balls-Out Theatricality' of Sam Mendes

    If you find yourself directing a Broadway play with a cast so big it includes a goose, two rabbits, more kids than you can count and an actual infant, what do you do? If you’re Sam Mendes, you embrace the “balls-out theatricality” of it all. Listen to this week’s podcast below: More Reviews Concert Review: [...]

  • James Corden Tony Awards

    James Corden to Host 2019 Tony Awards (EXCLUSIVE)

    James Corden has been tapped to once again host the Tony Awards, Variety has learned exclusively. “The Late Late Show” host previously emceed the annual theater awards show in 2016, and won the Tony for best actor in a play for his performance in “One Man, Two Guvnors” in 2012. More Reviews Concert Review: Yoko Ono [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content