Out West Arts: Performance at the end of the world

Opera, music, theater, and art in Los Angeles and beyond

In the Balance

September 29, 2010

Charles Castronovo and players at Zipper Concert Hall Photo: mine 2010

Last weekend provided one other performance I wanted to mention, particularly because it provided a sort of operatic cosmic balance to Los Angeles this week. The event was a benefit recital from tenor Charles Castronovo who is currently starring in the title role of Catán’s Il Postino for Los Angeles Opera. One of the more commented-on aspects of this new work has been the fact that Catán opted to set a story more related to the 1994 Italian film adaptation than to the original 1985 novel by Skármeta that is set in Chile. However, despite retaining the Italian setting and title, Catán did use a Spanish-language libretto which seems appropriate given that the poetry of Pablo Neruda is central to the show, which features several vocalists who are native speakers. And, even though opera libretti composed in languages other than that of the work’s setting, there is still a sort of Italianate absence from the operatic treatment of Il Postino.

In a gesture seemed to almost counterbalance this little bit of lack, Castronovo performed a program of primarily Neapolitan songs from the early to mid-20th century at Zipper Hall downtown on Saturday. This was a very personal program in a number of ways. First, it was a chance for Castronovo to highlight and express some of his own cultural heritage. The singer’s family, with roots in Sicily, was clearly close to his heart in assembling this particular program, which included some brief video accompaniment with what he identified as photos of his own family and ancestors. His own wife and young son, whom he made direct reference to were present in the audience. He was accompanied by a five-member ensemble complete with guitar, bass, drums, accordion, and mandolin; and Castronovo himself showed off his own guitar talents in an encore. There were two opera arias as well, “M’appari tutt’amor” from Martha and “Una furtive lagrima” from L’elisir. But the popular songs from the likes of E. A. Mario and R. Flavio suit Catronovo to a tee. They also allow him to lay claim to his place in a long and rich tradition of Italian tenors who’ve famously performed them as well. Castronovo’s rendition of Totò’s “Malafemmena” was particularly fine.

The recital was also close to home in another way. The performance was a benefit for the Opera Buffs. Operating in Southern California for almost 30 years, the Buffs main goal is to provide financial and other support to young singers at the earliest stages of their careers. Castronovo was one of their prior beneficiaries, and it’s support like theirs that helps singers with his talent achieve their dreams of providing all of us with some beautiful vocal art. The show was a beautiful thank you to the Buffs and best of all, it helped raise money to help foster and support those that will come after him. If you haven’t seen Castronovo’s performance as Mario in Il Postino, you should before it leaves town on October 16.

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