Virginia Opera opens “From Screen to Stage” series with ‘Il Postino’ at George Mason University

Virginia Opera Artistic Director Adam Turner discusses adapting film for opera and collaborating with other opera companies to reach a new generation of audiences

The sensuality and passion of Nobel Prize-winning Chilean poet, diplomat, and politician, Pablo Neruda has become the bones for a contemporary opera, Il Postino by Daniel Catán.

Virginia Opera presents 'Il Postino' November 16-17 at George Mason University's Center for the Arts. Photo by Ben Schill Photography.
Virginia Opera presents ‘Il Postino’ November 16-17 at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts. Photo by Ben Schill Photography.

Il Postino (The Postman) will have its DC regional premiere in a production from Virginia Opera at the George Mason Center for the Arts in Fairfax. The opera is based on the 1994 Oscar-winning film Il Postino (The Postman). Like the film, the opera centers on the life of a hapless mailman who receives the help of the Nobel Prize-winning poet Pablo Neruda to find ways to speak about love to the one he loves.

In conversation with Adam Turner, Artistic Director, Virginia Opera, I learned that the production of Il Postino is the initial presentation of Virginia Opera’s new “From Screen to Stage” series. Turner also said this for those who might be frightened to take in an opera; “it’s the furthest thing from ‘scary modern music’ that you’ll ever encounter!”

Turner went on to describe Daniel Catán’s musical language this way, as having “creative orchestral textures, vivid word-painting, accessible lyricism, and a sense of ‘magical realism’ throughout the score.”

For those less familiar with Neruda’s poetry, a fine example from his One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII will give some hints of what to expect from the essence of the opera Il Postino.

More about Virginia Opera’s presentation of Il Postino in this interview with Adam Turner, who will also conduct the music.

David Siegel: Il Postino is the first installment of the new “From Screen to Stage” initiative. Please tell me a bit about this initiative.

Adam Turner: Many of the stories from the most beloved masterworks in the operatic canon come from literary sources – La Bohème, La Traviata, Eugene Onegin, Lucia di Lammermoor, Porgy and Bess, just to name a few. But more recently I’ve noticed contemporary composers looking to cinema for inspiration – Lars von Trier’s film Breaking the Waves (adapted by composer Missy Mazzoli), the Pulitzer Prize-winning opera Silent Night (composer Kevin Puts) based on the 2005 film Joyeux Noël, iconic films like It’s A Wonderful Life (composer Jake Heggie) and The Shining (composer Paul Moravec), recent Metropolitan Opera productions of Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (composer Nico Muhly) and Luis Buñuel’s The Exterminating Angel (composer Thomas Adès), Jean Cocteau’s Orphée (composer Philip Glass), and many more.

Adam Turner. Photo courtesy of Virginia Opera.
Adam Turner. Photo courtesy of Virginia Opera.

One of the greatest challenges in adapting these works is the loss of the camera – a camera can capture an intimacy not easily achieved in a large theater, not to mention the typical visual feats associated with great camerawork. But most importantly, a good story is what ultimately resonates with an audience, and some of today’s best stories can be found in the world of cinema.

The production of Il Postino is in partnership with Chicago Opera Theater and Opera Southwest. Why is that?

Across the nation, U.S. opera companies are looking for ways to partner together, fostering the next generation of audience members and ensuring the future of opera in the United States. As opera is one of the most complex art forms, bringing together lots of people from a variety of backgrounds (singing, acting, orchestra, sets, costumes, lighting, etc.), it’s also one of the most expensive! In an effort to reduce cost, opera companies in recent years have begun sharing certain expenses of productions (particularly sets and costumes). Recent “co-productions” seen by Virginia Opera audiences include The Barber of Seville and Romeo and Juliet (2016), and Salome and La Traviata (2015).

Many of these productions were shared with our partners in the field, opera companies such as Portland Opera, Des Moines Metro Opera, Opera Carolina, and a host of others. These crucial collaborations allow us to continue offering our audiences the highest quality artistic product that they’ve come to expect.

How would you describe the music for Il Postino?

The music of Il Postino is richly evocative of the language of love, poetic and passionate, rapturous and lyrical, full of beautiful melodies–and the peaks and valleys of human emotion! It’s been a three-year-long dream to bring this work to Virginia Opera’s audiences.

Il Postino from Virginia Opera will be performed on Saturday evening, November 16, 2019, and Sunday afternoon, November 17, 2019, at George Mason University’s Center for the Arts – 4373 Mason Pond Drive, Fairfax, VA. For tickets, go online.

Note: A pre-performance discussion begins 45 minutes prior to the performance, located on the Center for the Arts Concert Hall Grand Tier. Seating is limited and opens 15 minutes before the pre-performance discussion.


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