Tuesday, June 21, 2011

From LA, via Vienna, Il postino finally rings in Paris

Il postino, Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris, June 20 2011

Ron Daniels ..... director
Jean-Yves Ossonce ..... conductor

Plácido Domingo ..... Pablo Neruda
Charles Castronovo ..... Mario Ruoppolo
Amanda Squitieri ..... Beatrice Russo
Cristina Gallardo-Domâs ..... Matilde (Mrs Neruda)
Victor Torres ..... Giorgio
Patricia Fernandez ...... Donna Rosa
Laurent Alvaro ..... Di Cosima
David Robinson ..... Le prêtre
Pepe Martinez ..... Le père de Mario

Orchestre Symphonique de Navarre

I am always amazed by the beauty of Théâtre du Châtelet. Its heavy historic background and its incomparable charm always make me feel good when I enter the house. That feeling gets even better when you see that this theater still keeps that quality of being popular: for the way it is organized, for its premisses, as well as the folks frequenting this place (not too many snooty characters that invade  the opening nights at the Paris Opera and Opéra Comique).
With that pleasant feeling comes another -much less pleasant- impression that this theater progressively becomes the place occupied by the Broadway kind of shows, to the detriment of opera. Nowadays you can see 1 or 2 operas a year. This year that shift was pushed to a new level and even the proposed production of Il barbiere di Siviglia  was plain truly awful: 10 routine shows in 12 days or so, with shows filled by cheesiness that only The Sound of Music would be able to match.

To me, this production of Il Postino confirmed the tendency of expelling opera from this theater. It is for the most part easy sounding stuff that despite of a colorful stage brings strictly nothing to the magnificent movie by Michael Radford, in which you can see one of the best acting performances in the history of film -- by Massimo Troisi. If you didn't see Il Postino (movie) you should rent or download it; it is must-see.

As you probably know, only hours after they finished filming this great movie, Massimo Troisi died of a heart attack. Bad spell continues with the eponymous opera whose composer, Daniel Catán, died within months after his work has been premiered at LA Opera, and then presented at Theater an der Wien. Théâtre du Châtelet was a third co-producer so eventually the show arrived to Paris, premiered last night and for the first time after the death of the composer.
What to say about the music? It is a weird combination of different styles, which  bravely starts with miniatures sounding similar to what you can hear in Debussy's works. Not surprisingly, Domingo at the press conference said that to him the music of this opera sounds like that of a  South-American Debussy.


But that can work with impressionist characters, with clever and/or ambiguous and multi-layered lyrics based on symbolism. To start a plain story --such as that introducing Mario Ruoppolo-- with the Debussy-like sounds actually makes the show become weird. But OK -- let's open our minds, and see where this would take us! Alas, later on, the Debussy parallel is pretty much abandoned to spice up the thing with more South-American sounds at first, and then the standard sounds of music from the films.

It soon becomes clear that this was an attempt to please everyone and in the end I doubt anyone was really thrilled about the musical content of this show. The sets and the stage directing do not help much. To me it all looks as if something went wrong in a Broadway show.

Charles Castronovo is too nice for the character of Mario Ruoppolo, his admirable musicality is always appreciated, but the size of his voice is maybe not the best suited for as large an auditorium as the one at Châtelet. The show was obviously mainly about Placido Domingo. He sang it well, and his scenic presence suits excellently the role of Pablo Neruda...  Many folks came actually to see him and they went home happy... I guess...

I have a world of respect for Placidone, but with his name and his glory, I wish he used his influence and promote some true artistic quality works, instead of this hybrid-genre, instantly packed to entertain and please (only!) 

The direction of actors and the organization of the show are made to accompany the story -- often naively set with no ambition to go beyond narrating the content of the libretto. Sets are too colorful, and a tad too "filmish"... enough for me to not to be able to resist a growing impression that this production was not more than a pretentious music-hall spectacle.

I am sure there are people who loved what they were given to see (It's Domingo, hey!)
Not me, I'm afraid... Maybe I expected too much?!

Production  photos:

The three co-producers prepared each a different trailer so that combining them you can get an idea about the music and the show

LA Opera:

Theater an der Wien:

Théâtre du Châtelet:


  1. Saw this in LA and thought it was a bit of a snoozer. Hubby described the music as "a bunch of tones and cymbal crashes." The audience seemed to like it, though. I went to see Il Placidone, so I went home happy, I guess.

    (BTW, I really liked the Sagi production of Barbiere that you hate.)

  2. On my itinetary for nex week. Still shell-shocked after Les Huguenots last night. Intensely exciting but sometimes Minkowski should conduct at less than fff. Would love to hear it with sensitivity and colour as it is a greater work than its reputation. Strong cast and John Osborn remarkable in long taxing role. Alternate cast next week for comparison.
    Tonight's Gotterdammerung will be light relief.

  3. Ano, I may be a bit jaded when it comes to Barbiere. I saw many productions, some of which were truly brilliant but that by Sagi didn't work with me. Different strokes I guess...
    As for Il postino, I am still a bit surprised that it was so shallow. I guess for those who didn't see the movie and don't know the story, the opera may appear interesting. But if you subtract the Placidone effect and you know the story, there is no much to nibble. Like I said, I am sure there are many people who liked what they could see. It's just not my case...

    John, you saw it too! I saw it on Sunday, but am too busy to post my comments. I believe the first cast is even better. Minkowski was very good last Sunday... I'll go to see the last show of Idomeneo tonight and hopefully will post something about Les Huguenots tomorrow. As for the Twilight, don't expect too much and you'll be good... In any case you won't be surprised by the video-game detail in the last part of the show, that I discussed in my report after the premiere. Cheers

  4. I have not seen the movie, but I could tell that the opera must have been less than the movie (although I suspect they cribbed all the funny punchlines from the movie). It started as a sweetly bucolic comedy; and then all the political tragedy came out of left field in the last five minutes. We were like, "whaa?"

    Here, they considered it a triumph for new opera. The combination of an already successful movie, an inoffensive score, and Placido = packed house. It feels churlish to complain when everybody (else) wins, right? Oh, well.