Il Postino/The Marriage Of Figaro
Opera Review by Willard Manus
Los Angeles Opera kicked off its 2010/2011 (and 25th) season in triumphant fashion, thanks to its first-class productions of IL POSTINO and THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO.

IL POSTINO was the world premiere work of composer Daniel Catan, whose previous opera Florencia en el Amazonas was presented by LA Opera in 1997. Inspired by the 1994 film of the same name and by the source material, a 1983 novel by the Chilean writer Antonio Skarmeta, IL POSTINO is a character-driven opera (in Spanish) which centers on the relationship between famed Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (sung vigorously by Placido Domingo) and Mario Ruoppolo, a young, unsophisticated postman who brings Neruda his mail every day. Set in the southern Italian fishing village where Neruda has been banished for his leftist activities, the story investigates Mario's coming of age through the influence of Neruda's poetry and politics on him.

Tenor Charles Castronovo, formerly a resident artist at LA Opera, performed the role of Mario with a mixture of delicacy and mounting strength and maturity. At first cribbing metaphors and poetic lines from Neruda (in order to win the heart of the local beauty, Beatrice (the fiery Amanda Squitieri), Mario slowly gains in confidence and skill as a poet and lover--and as a fighter for worker's rights. There is a dark side to this growth, though. Neruda's fame as a poet protected him from physical harm, but once he leaves the village and returns to the larger world, Mario must do lonely battle with his class-enemies, a bunch of right-wing thugs, with tragic results.

Domingo, Castronovo and Squitieri's remarkable vocal gifts carried the story, but the three lead singers got impressive help from Cristina Gallardo-Domas as Neruda's wife; Nancy Fabiola Herrera as Beatrice's mother; Vladimir Chernov as the postmaster Giorgio; and Jose Adan Perez as the pompous politician, Di Cosimo.

Ron Daniels and Grant Gershon, respectively, directed and conducted the opera with admirable results. Philip Bussman's projection designs--billowing seas, Mediterranean skies--and Riccard Hernandez's sliding set designs were big plusses as well.

Mozart's THE MARRIAGE OF FIGARO is always a delight and a crowd-pleaser, thanks to its effervescent score, fiendishly clever lyrics and serio-comic characters. A combination of opera buffa and opera seria, FIGARO is a great moment in the history of theatre--as pianist Alfred Brendel said, it offers "humor based on tragedy that understands, loves and forgives."

As directed by Ian Judge, the production was a replay of his 2004 LA Opera creation, with new singers in the key roles. Marlis Petersen, a young German soprano, scintillated as Susanna, the cheeky servant-girl desperately trying to avoid being bedded by Count Almaviva (the lusty Bo Skovhus). Daniel Okulitch dazzled as Figaro, ditto Martina Serafin as the moody, love-lorn Countess; Renata Prokupic won cheers as the cheeky, impish adolescent Cherubino.

Placido Domingo conducted (a day after singing for three hours in IL POSTINO!); Deirdre Clancy contributed the bright, sexy costumes; Tim Goodchild, the lush, handsome sets.

Judge leaned heavily on slapstick and burlesquery at times, but otherwise kept Mozart's comic masterpiece humming along on its invisible rails.

Los Angeles Opera will present LOHENGRIN by Richard Wagner, Nov. 20-Dec. 12 and RIGOLETTO by Giuseppe Verdi, Nov. 27-Dec. 18 at the Music Center, 135 N. Grand Ave. Call (213) 972-8001 or visit