Placido Domingo sings Pablo Neruda at Los Angeles Opera

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Spanish tenor Placido Domingo takes on the role of Chilean poet Pablo Neruda later this month in the opera adaptation of the Oscar-winning film "The Postman."

As Neruda, the multi-talented Domingo -- singer, professor, orchestra director and head of the Los Angeles Opera -- gets to use the full range of his prodigious voice, seemingly unblemished by time after turning 70 in January.

Adapted by Mexican composer Daniel Catan and co-produced by Vienna's Theater an der Wien and Paris' Theatre du Chatelet, "The Postman" narrates Neruda's exile in Italy during the presidency of Gabriel Gonzalez Videla and his friendship with a local postman seduced by his poetry and communist ideals.

While the opera follows the general lines of the "The Postman," in which Philippe Noiret played Neruda, it also draws from the political intrigue found in the film's original source of inspiration, Chilean author Antonio Skarmeta's "Ardiente Paciencia" (Burning Patience).

"There are entire scenes that weren't in the film, which we had to invent to bolster the political theme" in the book, Catan, 61, recently told AFP, speaking about his sixth opera.

For Domingo, who announced Monday that he is quitting as director of the Washington National Opera, "The Postman" offered a chance to re-immerse himself in Neruda's "tremendously complicated" poetry.

"The poetry of Neruda, of course, I know it from childhood, but I've not exactly been able to understand it until I grew old," Domingo said in presenting the opera to the press.

He also said the relationship between the poet and the postman echoed his own experience as a singer when he meets younger artists.

"Something I can connect with... is that I always try to teach young people, to show them the way, to give them advice," he said.

The postman's role in the opera falls to young American tenor Charles Castronovo, while Neruda's wife, Matilde Urrutia, is played by Chilean soprano Cristina Gallardo-Domas, who told AFP she felt "honored" to perform in an opera about her country.

She said Catan's music "falls mostly in the romantic context. It's very melodic, has some moments of dissonance but without excess. Daniel's music quickly reaches out to the audience, is very easy to listen to and understand."

On display at the opening was a powerful tonal score, a Puccini-inspired orchestration and vocalization with smatterings of Bizet, all miles from the musical avant-gardism in vogue in Europe.

The score casts its gaze backwards, forgetting the present, something that appealed to Chatelet director Jean-Luc Choplin, who will be showing "The Postman" in June.

"I am now used to this music from the Americas that dares to hearken back to memories without going through all the musical phases we have in Europe," he told AFP before the show.

"A music that dares to please, to delve in nostalgia, beauty. We're no longer used to these values," Chiplin added.

Skarmeta also enjoyed discovering a new, operatic dimension to his novel.

"I'm not an opera specialist. I'm more of a pop fan. I'm the son of rock and roll," he said. "When I had hair, I identified with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones."

© 2010 AFP

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