’Il Postino’ gets East Coast premiere in Philly
Philadelphia’s Center City Opera Theater has grown significantly in the past two years with innovative programming. Artistic director Andrew Kurtz is principal conductor of the company and continues to build a musically diverse opera company.
Kurtz has assembled an impressive roster of young Philly-based professional singers. The singers have been very accessible not only for more productions, but cabaret concerts, an After Hours Arias series at various local bars and ’Opera 4-D’ free opera on Philly street corners. The company has started mounting full productions in The Prince Music Theater on Chestnut Street and are about to stage two of their most ambitious productions so far.
In June, CCOT presents the world premiere of "Slaying the Dragon," an opera about the grand dragon of the Nebraska KKK in the 1990s who eventually denounces the hate group. Challenging subject matter to say the least. But before those ugly, white robes are dragged out, the company will have their East Coast premiere of "Il Postino" based on the 1994 Academy Award winning Italian film. It is the last full opera completed by Mexican composer Daniel Catán, who died at age 61 in 2011.
The opera tells the story of a shy postman, named Mario Ruoppolo, in a tiny Italian fishing village, who befriends a brilliant Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, who lives as a political refugee in the village. The poet turns out to be the postman’s sole postal stop, and their relationship transforms the poorly educated Mario. He becomes a thinker and lover, wooing a local village beauty with his poetry (heavily borrowed from Neruda). Opera superstar Placido Domingo championed the work and created the role of Neruda in its premieres in Los Angeles and Paris.
CCOT tenor Hugo Vera stars as Neruda and Jorge Garza, also a tenor, plays the postman. Vera said he become a fan of Neruda’s poetry, some of which is included in the opera’s libretto. "I knew of him only because of his political stance, it was only after I read his poetry, that I was able to see him as an artist and complex man. I was surprised with the sensual and erotic poetry," Vera said
He was instantly connected to Catán’s score, "It’s very structured, but also so impressionistic and it just flows musically. You don’t get a chance to hear many Spanish-language operas, so it’s amazing to have this company to do this. A three-act opera in Spanish, it’s a big deal, I think. Hopefully, we’ll attract the Hispanic, Latino community back, who may think that opera isn’t for them."
Vera has sung with several opera companies including the Met is working for the first time with CCOT said it was rewarding being with a company that takes risks. "Andrew attracts amazing young singers. His combination of doing new works and standard works is so important to move opera forward," Vera said.
"Il Postino". Sung in Spanish with English translated projections. At the Prince Music Theater, Philadelphia, May 17-20, 2012. For more information call 215.238.1555 or visit the Center City Opera Theater website.