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Terrific cast, clever set elevate ‘Il Postino’

Terrific cast, clever set elevate ‘Il Postino’

There’s something wonderfully charming about Mexican composer Daniel Catan’s “Il Postino,” which Ope
Terrific cast, clever set elevate ‘Il Postino’
Daniel Montenegro as Mario Ruoppolo and Richard Troxell as Pablo Neruda in Opera Saratoga's 'Il Postino.' (photo provided)

SARATOGA SPRINGS — There’s something wonderfully charming about Mexican composer Daniel Catan’s “Il Postino,” which Opera Saratoga presented Thursday night at the Spa Little Theatre as its third offering this season.

The three-act opera, which premiered in 2010 at Los Angeles Opera, is based on the beloved 1994 “Il Postino” film and follows the friendship that develops between the exiled Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and the local island postman Mario Ruoppolo.

Catan, who also wrote the piquant and often lightly humorous libretto, kept his music sunny, lyrical, colorful and romantic in the vein of Puccini. With no overture, the action began at once more often in long and demanding duets that required much stamina, and which were sung in Spanish — a first for OS.

The cast, which was small, was uniformly excellent. Led by the appealing tenor Daniel Montenegro as Mario, tenor Richard Troxell expertly re-created the role Placido Domingo premiered as Neruda and soprano Cecilia Violetta Lopez as Mario’s love interest and wife Beatrice wowed everyone with her luscious, big, agile voice. In smaller parts but no less terrific were baritone Jonathan Rohr as a local politician; tenor Martin Bakari as Mario’s father; baritone Brian Major as Mario’s friend; and mezzo-soprano Emily Spencer as Beatrice’s mother.

Director Lawrence Edelson got the best out of his singers, but what made this production remarkable was the quality of acting. It was so natural that the capacity crowd was drawn into Mario’s quest to learn to write poetry, into the joy of his wedding to Beatrice, and to the sadness of the final act. Who knew that a duet about metaphors between two tenors could be riveting?

Caite Hevner created the seaside set, which skillfully provided small scene changes. It was impressive to look at, too, what with the ceiling-to-floor nets and ramps. Josh Epstein designed the effective spotlight or soft white lighting. The large orchestra that was at stage level but hidden behind other netting was adept and focused under conductor James Lowe.

With comments heard at the two intermissions like “I’m overwhelmed,” “I love those two men,” and “what a clever use of space,” it was not surprising that the capacity crowd gave the cast huge applause, cheers and a standing ovation.

The other performances of “Il Postino” are Sunday and next Saturday, both matinees.

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