Renowned Spanish tenor Plácido Domingo leads an all-star ensemble in this week’s premiere of Il Postino, Daniel Catán’s opera about a young postman’s friendship with Nobel laureate and Chilean poet Pablo Neruda.
The opera is the latest in a thirty year artistic metamorphosis that’s been anything but straightforward. The story begins with Chilean writer Antonio Skármeta, who based his 1985 book Ardiente Paciencia on his own 1983 movie of the same name. In his version, set in Isla Negra in 1969, a young postman named Mario delivers letters to the aging Neruda, whom he befriends and in the process learns he wants to become a writer. At the same time he falls in love and gets some pretty amazing advice from a man who single handedly redefined romantic poetry.
That alone would have been enough to mark the story as prolific – but it got better. In 1994 the story was adapted for Italian cinema by English director Michael Radford. All the characters were transplanted from Isla Negra to late 1950’s Salina Island, Sicily and the film was renamed Il Postino. For years it was the largest grossing non-English language film and won numerous awards, including an Oscar for best soundtrack.
Finally, in 2010 the movie was adapted into an opera by Mexican composer Daniel Catán, who returned the plot to Chile. It premiered in Los Angeles to great reviews and eventually went on to international tours of Paris and Vienna. Unfortunately, Catán died in April 2011 at 62 years old, just a little over a year before his opera would finally return to its country of origin.
This week’s production is an exceptional blend of the past two years of touring and features two casts: an original, all-star cast led by Plácido Domingo and the international touring cast. According to mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera, who co-stars as Doña Rosa, Domingo is especially “fantastic”.
“Plácido plays Neruda very beautifully. He brings a combination of tenderness and strength to the character that really makes you love him,” she said.
Though the story has traditionally been presented under the guise of a love story, musical director Grant Gershon insists it’s really the story between master and student that takes center stage.
“This guy, Mario, falls in love with Beatrice. And there’s Neruda, who’s always accompanied by Matilde. But above all is the relationship between the poet and the postman. He’s like a modern Cyrano de Bergerac that teaches Mario how to love, with the only difference being that he’s not interested in the girl.”