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Another part of Placido Domingo’s inspired operatic career comes into focus with Il Postino.
By Mort Levine

Coupled with the nearby San Francisco Opera performance of Cyrano de Bergerac last fall, along came the opportunity to witness another aspect of Placido Domingo’s operatic genius at work. Almost simultaneously, while singing the title role as the lovesick poet-swordsman, this most versatile artist was also singing the role of the Nobel prizewinning Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda, at Los Angeles Opera, where he also remains the general director.

There are other astonishing parallels in the two operas. Both operas are far better known for their movies. Il Postino was first a successful film . It inspired Mexican composer Daniel Catan, when he saw it, to say, "This is a perfect theme for an opera. It deals with art and love: the foundations on which we build out lives."

Neruda’s luminous love poetry figures strongly in the opera as does his story of exile. He was booted out of Chile for protesting the policies of the Pinochet regime in 1949 and found himself on the Italian island of Cala di Sotto where the tale of a lovesick postman, Mario Ruoppolo, unfolds. The postman and the poet develop a friendship in which the poetic lines help Mario win the girl of his dreams, another interesting connection to Cyrano.

The opera elevates Mario to a much more thoughtful character than in the movie. As a result he emerges from Neruda’s tutelage as heroic yet sensitive, like his mentor.

Los Angeles based Tenor Charles Castronovo sang the title role. Amanda Squitieri’s buttery soprano was perfect for the object of his affections. The always hovering mamma, Donna Rosa, was sung with appropriate authority by mezzo Nancy Fabiola Herrera. Neruda’s wife, Matilde, was Cristina Gallardo-Domas, a Chilean soprano most recently seen as Desdemona opposite Domingo as Otello.

Domingo was an early advocate of this opera, along with earlier works by Catan. LA Opera presented his Florencia en el Amazonas, based on Garcia Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera. Both operas manifest a strong romantic and lyrical style which fits human voices well and is very accessible to audiences.

It is hard to encapsulate the multi-faceted impact of Domingo on the opera world today. There is simply no one like him anywhere. A fine, disciplined and well-trained musician, he is a conductor, an administrator of major companies and conceptualizer of significant operatic projects. These include operas but also such ventures as "Operalia", a periodic vocal competition designed to jump-start careers of budding singers.

And now well into his 60s, Placido Domingo is still a hot ticket at the box office with amazingly unimpaired acting and singing ability after so many years.

It was well worth the trip to experience the range of Placido Domingo’s artistry.

(SJOG Newsletter February, 2011)

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