Il Postino comes East

Il Postino, Music & Libretto by Daniel Catan, (East Coast Premiere) conducted by Andrew Kurtz, directed by Leland Kimball, Center City Opera, Prince Theater, May 17, 19, 20, 2012. 

If you saw Massimo Troisi in Il Postino (directed by Michael Radford), you’ll miss his gaunt, eloquent face, as you watch Il Postino, the opera. Recall that Troisi, the actor and writer who was that postman,  died only hours after the film he championed was done. He was 41. Mexican composer Daniel Catan went to great lengths to buy the movie rights from Troisi’s heirs for his chamber version – only to die at 62 not long after Il Postino was finished for LA Opera.  Is the story cursed? It’s a beautiful fiction – about Pablo Neruda in exile and his friendship with an Italian mailman. Center City Opera gave the last of  Il Postino’s three performances at the Prince Theater Sunday afternoon.

As the postman, Jorge Garza lacks Troisi’s halting presence but his  apple- cheeked naivete and agile, soaring tenor more than compensate.  Hugo Vera as  Neruda,  sang as if he were emulating a young Placido Domingo, for whom the role was written (but in 2010). With more charisma than poetry perhaps but Vera’s voice is strong and he uses it well.  The opera feels longer than the languorous, wondrous, film. It would have helped if maestro Andrew Kurtz had picked up his pace. Musical passion heats up in the third act, where on Sunday the singers were fully invested in their characters.  Sopranos Jennifer Hoffman and Jennifer Braun play Neruda’s and the postman Mario’s respective beloveds. As Beatrice Russo, Braun sang a kaleidoscope of emotions; the color of her sorrow was intense. She and Garza (of the soaring hopes) were finely matched.

Buck Ross’s scene design should win an award – gorgeous color projections of the sky and sea. The computer dominated projections are efficient, persuasive. Catan’s music is neo-romantic. It’s got syrup but is more often accomplished, lush.  Center City Opera’s pit orchestra,   Symphony in C,  was reduced to twenty- some members so the full romanticism was missing. Sunday there were struggles in the brass, but woodwinds performed splendidly. Il Postino’s  sung in Spanish, which here sometimes sounded Italian. More operas in Spanish are planned.

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