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Split personality. Liking the arts, especially opera, and hockey and Los Toros. I know, I know THAT one is non pc currently. But I can't help it saw some in Spain and got hooked, but good. But on the other hand right now opera and hockey are in the forefront!


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Skarmeta and Catan

Better Half, friend MS, and I went to see/hear IL POSTINO, an opera based on a short novel by A. Skarmeta as well as on the film by  M. Radford which was premiered last fall at LA Opera with Placido Domingo as Pablo Neruda, the Chilean Poet in exile.

Before the curtain went up, staff, cast, orchestra members and principals of The Moore's School of Music at U of H gave a moving tribute to the composer who died April 11, 2011, in his sleep, at Austin, TX at the young age of 62 and of as yet unknown causes! 

So, how much did that news influence my impressions of this opera?
I must admit it did a bit.
The sad parts seemed sadder, the music more emotional.
But overall, the impression that this piece was - maybe - the best one yet of the three I have heard/seen stayed long after we left the house and arrived home.

In style it sounded rather romantic with lush orchestrations following lyric melodic lines making it very accessible tonally. I found great original beauty in IL POSTINO's score, even though here and there a hint of Puccini, perhaps Ravel, could be discerned.
The young student singers and musicians of the U of Houston surprised us with a truly stunning presentation of this work. Perhaps influenced by the news of the composer's death they gave their all.  Mr. Catan had been present through several rehearsals just a few days ago, he was slated to appear at 2 performances Sat/Sun as well. The story is simple. And all who saw the movie will be familiar with it.
The most impressive performance, IMO, was given by Casey Finnigan as Pablo Neruda. His dramatic tenor reached easily into all corners of the house. His rich sound conveyed all the role asked for and his acting was more than adequate. Pacing him beautifully was Rebecca Heath as Neruda's wife - a smallish part but with exquisite lyrical arias.
The other tenor, more lyric and lighter, needing stamina to be on for long periods, expressing a range of emotions, was Paul Hopper as Mario, the Postman. His counterpart, his Beloved, was Soprano Mary Brooke Quarles as Beatrice Russo. Now that part demanded a voice capable of a large range, and she sang it very well throughout. Just once it seemed she had to strain to reach the role's uppermost level.
These two couples, Neruda and Matilde, Mario and Beatrice, had several lovely duets singing of their love and/or desire for another. None overly long and so never boring :-)!
All the other roles were cast well, the all male chorus sounded warm, and Brett Mitchell as guest conductor had the players in hand. All singers managed to sing the Spanish libretto with a clarity - and were easily understood by anyone with even just a bit of knowledge of the language. But providing both the Spanish original and an English Translation in the surtitles was innovative! The on-stage bras band performed with gusto.  Satirical interludes about 'politicians on the stump' with so-often empty promises,
provided brief moments of hilarity.
The staging (Thom Guthrie) was simple with few pieces of furniture. Mostly using on-screen projections (Buck Ross) to set the moods... the sea, the sun, the stars, the moon, a street in Southern Italy, Waves crashing over rocks. Costumes (Richard Walsh) mid- 20th century. Lighting (Guthrie) fitted score and projections, and beautifully choreographed to match the music during scene changes.
A fitting tribute well presented by these young and talented artists to the composer Daniel Catan.

Among his operas is "Florencia en el Amazonas", world premiered by Houston Grand Opera in 1996. Based on the work of the Colombian novelist Gabriel Marquez,
the comic opera “Salsipuedes: A Tale of Love, War and Anchovies,”
first staged also at  Houston Grand Opera in 2004, "Rappacini's Daughter"(1991), 
as well as orchestral and chamber works.
Catán, born in Mexico City on April 3, 1949 to parents descending from Turkish and Russian Jews, moved to England as a  musically gifted pianist teenager to attend boarding school. He received an undergraduate degree in philosophy at the University of Sussex there before earning a PH.D. in music from Princeton, where his teachers included the composer Milton Babbit.

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