A WINTERS’ TALE
A Tale of Two Tenors By GLENN WINTERS
One of the most familiar tropes in operatic libretti is an opening scene in which the tenor sings ardently of the soprano he loves. The first and last operas of Virginia Opera’s current season employ this device with Cavaradossi’s “Recondita armonia” in Tosca and the famous solo “Celeste Aida” in our closing production. Oﬀ the top of my head I can list others: The Barber of Seville; Un ballo in maschera; Manon Lescaut; and many others. It’s a “thing.”
INSIDE The Editor’s Notes
Letter from the Chair
Opera Near the Park
Behind the Scenes
New Guild Members
At The Harrison
The Met Live in HD
Does Il Postino follow suit? Yes, but with one big – and significant – diﬀerence. The first aria is given to Pablo Neruda, the famous Chilean poet. Predictably, most of Neruda’s solos are settings of selections from his poems; the first one is “Desnuda” (Naked), in which the character praises the beauty of his wife Matilde: Naked, you are as simple as your hand, Smooth, earthy, minimal, round, transparent, You have lines of moonlight, paths of apple, Naked you are like slender naked wheat. Naked, you are blue, like a night in Cuba, Vines and stars decorate your hair. Naked you are tiny, Naked you are rotund and golden, grandiose Like summer in a golden temple. Continued on page 2
MEET THE ARTIST
When Life and Love Imitate Art... By POWERS PETERSON
Daniel Montenegro Photo by B. Berkstresser
Although the view of the stage from his seat was partially obstructed, tenor Daniel Montenegro has never forgotten the voice of Plácido Domingo. Daniel was attending his first opera at age 17 in Los Angeles. He had sung in choir since middle school; music was fun. The character of that opera voice was so diﬀerent, so compelling that the next day he asked his choir teacher, “How do they sing like that?” The day after that he found an opera voice teacher. He’d seen “a Latin man who looks like me, singing” and thought, “Maybe I can do that.” Montenegro sings the title role of the postman, Mario, in Virginia Opera’s production of Il Postino. It’s a role he has sung twice before. The first time was his European debut at Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris in 2011. At that production he sang with Domingo, his “idol and inspiration.” Continued on page 4
From the Cover
Daniel Catán’s musical setting is ardent, tender and a touch exotic. But for all its attractiveness, the aria is also a definite break with tradition. In the other operas listed above, the soprano character who is the object of the tenor’s aﬀection is the female lead; the prima donna. However, the leading female role in Il Postino is Beatrice, not Matilde. Veteran operagoers may thus be confused, expecting Matilde to be the focus of the story arc, when in reality she proves to be a minor figure. What accounts for this unconventional aspect of a conventional trope? There are a couple of explanations. One is born of practical considerations while the other has to do with the character of Mario Ruoppolo, the postman of the title and the other tenor role. The role of Neruda was created for and with the collaboration of tenor Plácido Domingo, who sang it at the world premiere production. Given that a new opera by a composer who was not a household name would not automatically generate box-oﬃce success, it seems clear that the chief draw would be Domingo’s superstar status. Logically, his name alone could be counted on to tempt those who are often wary of contemporary works to buy a ticket. Thus, Pablo Neruda gets the lion’s share of arias in Il Postino with four substantial solos in addition to ensembles. But why could Catán not have begun the show with an aria for Mario rhapsodizing about Beatrice? Neruda could still have sung all of his solos, after all. The reason is simple: Mario wasn’t ready. The opera is Mario’s coming-of-age journey. He begins as a shy, inarticulate, unemployed, uneducated young man drifting through life. He lacks selfconfidence; he worships women from afar but can’t summon up the gumption to speak to them.
voice. His vocal writing gradually gains in eloquence until, by the bittersweet finale, we discover a grown man no longer clinging to the coattails of Neruda, the role model he once worshipped. If Mario’s closing music doesn’t bring a lump to your throat, I’ll be surprised.
He is not given an opening aria because, at this point, he has nothing to say. As he uses Neruda’s poetry to woo Beatrice by proxy, he gradually finds his
The Editor’s Notes By POWERS PETERSON
The Virginia Opera Association is in its 45th season this year. That’s an aniversary definitely worth celebrating, and Coloratura will have special articles in later issues. The celebration is admixed with a touch of sadness, though, as President and CEO Russell P. Allen prepares to retire next year. His fifteen years at VO have been noteworthy and very productive, both for him and for VO. I’ve asked people to write rememberances of their time working with Russell. On page 7 are two tributes. One is from Martha Lee Shaw, a longtime supp0rter of VO and the Guild. Not only has Ms. Shaw served on both the Statewide and Hampton Roads Regional Boards of Governors for decades, but she also has served as Chair and member of the Guild Board of Directors. The other is from Jim McGough, the head of the Wig and Makeup Department for over twenty years. We explore Il Postino in depth in this issue. Glenn Winters details the major oddity of this opera. I interviewed two people intimately knowledegable about the genesis and evolution of this Spanish-language work. One is the tenor who sang the postman at the LA Opera premiere and the other is the widow of composer-librettist Daniel Catán. Check out “Meet the Artist” and “Behind the Scenes.” The Guild hosts its second artists dinner on November 2 at Harrison Opera House. We welcome edible contributions as we plan to serve dinner to the 60+ artists and crew of Il Postino. We hold our first Guild Night on November 5 at HOH. If you’re a Guild member, bring guests. If you’re not yet a member, join us to explore the cultural treasure that is Virginia Opera.
Photo by DRA
Chairperson’s Corner By AMBER TAYLOR REEVES Summer has ended and our 2019/2020 opera season is once again in full swing. The Guild opened the season with “Sunset Near the Oceanfront” in Virginia Beach. Sixty members and their guests attended. This event gave us a chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones. We enjoyed hearing summertime stories from all our friends. What would a party be without food and entertainment? Chef ’s Choice Catering by Kroger supplied the sumptuous hors d’oeuvres and other refreshments. Soprano Anna Feucht sang the arias “Ah! non giunge” from Vincenzo Bellini’s La Sonnambula and “The Silver Aria” from Douglas Moore’s The Ballad of Baby Doe. She finished with “If I Loved You” from Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel. Chuck Woodward of the Virginia Chorale accompanied Ms. Feucht on piano.'
The Guild’s mission is to support the Virginia Opera, and one way we do that is by purchasing season tickets. If you are interested in a season subscription, please visit vaopera.org or call the box oﬃce at 866-673-7282. There are also many other opportunities to help the Guild and show your support for VO. Join one of our committees; contribute food for the artists dinners; start gathering items for the April 2020 Merchant of Venice rummage sale. Call me, Amber Taylor Reeves, at 757-354-5658 or email me at email@example.com — I’ll be pleased to provide you a list of opportunites to consider.
SEE YOU AT THE OPERA!!!
As of mid-October Guild membership stands at 135. That includes 23 brand new members. We welcome them and look forward to adding new members throughout the season.
Sunset Near the Oceanfront The Virginia Opera Guild opened its season with “Sunset at the Oceanfront” on August 24th at the community hall of the Lynnhaven Colony Congregational Church. While enjoying the perfect weather and the delicious hot and cold hors d’oeuvres, attendees caught up with friends from the Guild and made new acquaintances. Amber Taylor Reeves, Chair of the Virginia Opera Guild, was the mistress of ceremonies for the brief presentations. Lisa Sands, Director of Development for Virginia Opera, addressed the vital role the Guild plays in boosting attendance at the opera. Ms. Sands then spoke of the upcoming season and introduced the vocalist, soprano Anna Feucht. Ms. Feucht performed three songs/arias. What a lovely evening! For those who couldn’t attend, we hope to see you soon at one of our next events – Guild Night on November 5th and the Holiday Luncheon on December 14th.
Mary Nell Kuhlo and Dora Lee Taylor Photos by DRA
Burke and Vivian Margulies
Part of the buﬀet
Amber Taylor Reeves, soprano Anna Feucht, and pianist Chuck Woodward
From the Cover Montenegro originally came to this role because of his friendship with the Mexican composer and librettist Daniel Catán. Montenegro’s opera rep coach was a friend of Catán. Catán needed someone to sing the role of Mario during the opera’s developmental stages. The piano teacher recommended Montenegro. He recalls Catán as “a humble man” in that the composer actually changed vocal parts based on Daniel’s suggestions. Challenges abound in portraying opera characters. Montenegro looks forward to the challenge of one of his dream roles, the title character in Les contes
D. Montenegro as Romeo in the SF Merola Opera Program
A scene from the LA premiere of Il Postino (2010)
d’Hoﬀmann (The Tales of Hoﬀmann). He sang the title role while a student at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He sees Hoﬀmann as a “tortured, complex character who displays a wide emotional range and who sings in every act.” An old man retelling his story, Hoﬀmann had fallen in love with three diﬀerent women during his life. Was he truly in love with each of them? Daniel thinks the answer depends on how Hoﬀmann is sung, as well as how the director chooses to portray Hoﬀmann. Montenegro theorizes that each woman represents diﬀerent kinds of love, facets of Hoﬀmann’s perfect woman. “If Giulietta represents more
of the sexual side, then Olympia represents the idea of love. But it was Antonia whom Hoﬀmann really loved.” His own experience with love? “Being in love with one woman is hard enough. But three?” Where would he choose to perform Hoﬀmann? He would return to the War Memorial Opera House in San Francisco. His conductor of choice would be Gustavo Dudamel, with whom he worked at the Los Angeles Opera. The role of Mario has brought Montenegro “a lot of luck.” Because the tenor who was supposed to sing opposite Domingo at Théâtre du Châtelet became ill, Montenegro was oﬀered the role. He flew to Paris and brought his then girlfriend Jessica with him. Because of Domingo’s schedule, there were eight days between performances. So, Daniel and Jessica enjoyed Paris -- so much so that they were married upon their return. They now live in Minnesota with their two sons. His current oﬀ-opera project is working with his father-in-law to build a deck. The YouTube video and the book “How to Build a Deck” are quite useful. He’s confident of success because he’s already built a pirate ship with a slide for his sons.
Opera Near the Park On September 7th the vestigial remnants of Hurricane Dorian displaced “Opera in The Park” from Town Point Park to the front steps of the Harrison Opera House. Nonetheless, prior to the performances the Guild oﬀered its hospitality tent to 84 members and their guests. Attendees enjoyed the now-perfect weather and the delicious hot and cold hors d’oeuvres and beverages. And no one complained about the change of venue — air conditioning and betterthan-outdoor acoustics were definitely compensatory. The chorus on stage
The buﬀet table
Julie and Christopher Coﬃng
Diane Nolan, Cesar Arellano, Rick Shepard and Jennie Calhoun
BEHIND THE SCENES
In Daniel Catán’s Garden By POWERS PETERSON
I interviewed Andrea Puente-Catán, the widow of composer and librettist Daniel Catán, to get insights into the creation of Il Postino (The Postman). Il Postino is probably the most successful Spanish-language opera in the repertoire. Plácido Domingo commissioned the opera in 2005 when he was the General Director of the Los Angeles Opera. The opera is based on the 1994 Italian film of the same name. The film is loosely based The composer and librettist Daniel Catán at the piano
Mexican heritage as a binding principle. Both men loved LatinAmerican literature and, of course, opera. This professional relationship eventually led to a warm personal one between the two men.
Poster for the 1994 film Il Postino / The Postman
on the Italian novel Ardiente Paciencia. The opera premiered in Los Angeles in 2010 with Domingo singing the role of Pablo Neruda, the exiled Chilean poet. The postman of the title delivers Neruda’s correspondence to the island of exile by boat. Interestingly, although the story is that of a Chilean exile, the movie and the opera are set in Italy. In a manner of speaking, the commission from LA opera very nearly demanded that Catán write the role of Neruda for Domingo’s voice. Catán took into account that particular tenor voice and the singer’s suggestions. The singer-composer collaboration flourished. Mrs. PuenteCatán speaks of the men’s shared
“At its heart, this is an opera about enduring love,” says Mrs. PuenteCatán. “Of course, there’s the love story of the postman and his beloved, but equally important is the love story of Neruda and his wife Matilde.” The years before the Communist-leaning Neruda was an established and lauded poet were lean. His exile from Chile during a non-Communist regime’s ascendance was diﬃcult and challenging. Nevertheless, Neruda’s and Matilde’s love endured. Mrs. Puente-Catán expresses it this way: “That is one of the things that my husband was trying to communicate. The beauty of long-lasting love that deep can only be admired and praised. My husband was a master at showing an audience that beauty.” Years in the making, Il Postino has been performed by numerous opera companies. In addition to Los Angeles Opera, the list includes Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Paris’ Théâtre du Châtelet, Madrid’s Teatro Real, Mexico City’s Palacio de Bellas Artes, and Opera Saratoga. Virginia Opera is co-producing Il Postino in conjunction with Opera Southwest Albuquerque and Chicago Opera Theater. Señora Puente-Catán is quite pleased with the opera’s success
because her husband “was committed to his native Spanish language. Through his five operas and his compositions for voice and piano he brought the Spanish language to a level where it could be appreciated by people unfamiliar with that language.” The analogy would be to Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen in Czech, or to Dargomyzhsky’s Rusalka and Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, both in Russian. Mrs. Puente-Catán recalls, “There is a scene in the garden which mimics a garden we had. The couple’s shared humor reminds me of Daniel’s and mine.” The señora eagerly anticipates the Virginia Opera production.
AT THE HARRISON
Il Postino Music by DANIEL CATÁN Libretto by the composer
The Production Conducted by Adam Turner Virginia Opera Orchestra Virginia Opera Chorus Director' ' ' Scenic Designer' ' Costume Designer'' Lighting Designer' ' Projection Designer' Chorus Master' '
' ' ' ' ' '
Crystal Manich Liliana Duque Piñeiro Alice Fredrickson Paul Hackenmueller Tláloc López-Watermann Brandon Eldredge
The Cast Mario Ruoppolo' Pablo Neruda' Beatrice Russo' Matilde Neruda' Donna Rosa' Di Cosimo' Mario’s father' Priest' '
' ' ' ' ' ' ' '
Tenor' ' Tenor' ' Soprano' ' Soprano' ' Mezzo-soprano' Baritone' ' Tenor' ' Tenor' '
Daniel Montenegro Raúl Melo Danielle Talamantes Inna Dukach Dana Beth Miller Efraín Solís Miguel Girona Louis Riva An opera performance of Il Postino in Paris
The Artists’ Dinner At a piano rehearsal before each production, the Guild serves a buﬀet dinner for the cast members, technical staﬀ and crew. At the dinner on September 28 for Tosca, the Guild provided dinner for 65 people. And we’ll have a repeat performance on November 2 for Il Postino.
New Guild Members We welcome our first-time Guild Members Fred Amos, Virginia Beach Arthur (Chip) Broadbent, Norfolk Kathryn Copeland & Greg Hood, Norfolk Linda Edge, Virginia Beach Ralph Grove, Norfolk Fara & Chris Harris-Evans, Norfolk Wayne Hill & Curtis Shinaberry, Rockingham Kathryn McGehee, Chesapeake Sava Marinkovic’, Alexandria Margaret Miller & Ken Damon, Suﬀolk Josh Mitchell, Virginia Beach Amelia Moore, Chesapeake Alethea Sullivan, Suﬀolk Col. Eric F. & Michelle Peterson, Norfolk Desiree Scherini, Washington, D.C.
From left to right: R. Shepard, P. Martin, B. Boslego, M. Nichlolson, A. Reeves, P. Blue, and K. Ritter
Shahid & Julianna Siddiqi, Hampton Aletha Sullivan, Suﬀolk
Tributes to Russell P. Allen Mr. Allen is the President and CEO of Virginia Opera. He was the company’s General Manager from 1994 - 2000. He returned in 2011 to assume his present position. Mr. Allen has announced he will retire at the end of this season.. When Russell returned to Virginia Opera, I invited him to lunch. Though I was thrilled at his returning, I was puzzled as to why, given all the challenges then facing VO. So, I asked him, “This move is either very wise or very unwise. Which is it?” For VO it was a very wise move. RPA has carried the company these past years literally on his back. He has given his all to increase our community base, raise the much needed treasure to keep us afloat, and produce a brilliant artistic product. For VO, a wise move. For RPA, a major endeavor. At that lunch I also told him that he was my acorn because mighty oaks grow from one acorn. To remind him how we were counting on him, I gave him an acorn dish. So, as to RPA’s decision… Well, let’s just call it dedicated love. Thank you, RPA! Martha Lee Shaw is a longtime member of both the Statewide and the Hampton Roads Regioinal Boards of Directors of the Virginia Opera.
Martha Lee Shaw
I have many fond memories and funny stories of Russell Allen during both of his tenures at Virginia Opera. I have always enjoyed working for and with him. Here is my tribute as Russell prepares to retire. I’ll never forget walking across a foggy tarmac at the airport with Russell. He said, “Jim, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.” OK, maybe that was Bogart in Casablanca. The truth is I don’t have any hilarious stories of working with Russell. I do have fond memories of a terrific crusader for VO. I toast the man who led the company through some very tough times. A man who had time to talk to me, listen to me, compliment me. A man who always made me feel important to VO. For his friendly greeting, warm handshake, and words of encouragement. I will always consider Russell far more than the CEO and President of the VO. He is a friend whom I will miss greatly. I am confident, however, when we meet again in the future, it will be as though no time has passed. After all, it was that way this time around when he returned. I thank Russell for always having my department’s back. I wish him the very best in all his postVO endeavors. Russell, You’re the BEST!
Jim McGough has been the Resident Wig & Make-up Designer at Virginia Opera since 1998.
Photos by DRA
Save the Date! Event
Nov. 5, 2019
Harrison Opera House
Dec. 14, 2019
Norfolk Yacht & Country Club
Jan. 28, 2020
Harrison Opera House
Merchant of Venice
Apr. 4, 2020
Harrison Opera House
Contact Information Join us to support the Virginia Opera Association. Volunteer for a committee or for one of our activities. And don’t forget to check us out on the Virginia Opera website. Here’s how to contact us: Write us
Virginia Opera Guild P.O. Box 11572, Norfolk VA 23517
RSVP: 757-627-9545, ext. 3584
on Facebook: Virginia Opera Guild
8 Already a mezzo-soprano who sang in choruses and choirs, Adele Levesque heard a performance of Wagner’s The Ring Cycle on PBS over several nights. When “Siegfried’s Funeral March” played in Götterdämmerung, she says, “Chills went up and down my spine. My hair stood on end. It was electric music!” This singing was in another dimension. “I wanted to sing like that. I wanted to sing Wagnerian opera.” So, she set out to achieve that goal. Adele improved her musical skills, hired a vocal coach, and took additional college courses in music theory and history. She auditioned for the New Jersey State Opera chorus and was accepted. Though she has never sung in the chorus of Götterdämmerung, she did cross one item oﬀ her bucket list.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS BIO
Adele’s favorite opera is Götterdämmerung. So enamored of this opera and The Ring Cycle in its entirety is she that she attended the performances at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City last season. Adele recounts two memorable events during her tenure with the NJ State Opera. During a performance of Carmen, Don José was facing the audience with his back to the chorus — who could see that his pants had ripped open. As the chorus members stared, Carmen sensed something was wrong. Carmen managed to convey to Don José that his exit should be fully facing the audience. On another occasion, during a Photo by DRA performance of Andrea Chenier, Adele’s eighteenth-century wig became stuck on a trellis. She couldn’t extricate the wig without having it come oﬀ. Not wanting to exit the stage with the wig literally left hanging, she managed to convey to another sopranos that she needed help. It wasn’t easy, but she kept the wig on. Adele and her husband of 42 years retired to the Hampton Roads area, largely because of their love of sailing. Because of her other love — opera — she joined the Guild and this year became its treasurer. “I have a graduate degree in economics and taught economics at a college in Florida for ten years. The first part of my career, however, was largely as an economist for AT&T in NJ. I’m not sure that my forte, forecasting product revenue, qualifies me as treasurer. But I should be able to formulate a budget and balance a checkbook.” Adele knows the arts are important. “Arts education is as important as mathematics or English or science.” Since funding for the arts is constantly being cut, she intends to contribute to the success of the Guild and of Virginia Opera.
The Met Live in HD
Virginia Opera Guild Calendar Date
Artists’ Dinner for Il Postino HOH
Guild Night - HOH
4:30 6:00 p.m.
Board Meeting - HOH
11:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Holiday Luncheon - Norfolk Yatch & Country Club
Time Opera / Composer
Conductor / Singers
Madama Butterfly / Puccini
Morandi / He, DeShong, Caré, Domingo
Akhnaten / Philip Glass
Kemensek / Lárusdóttir, Bridges, Costanzo, Blake, Liverman, Bernstein, James
Wozzeck / Berg
Nézet-Séguin, van den Heever, Mumford, Ventris, Siegel, Staples, Mattei, Van Horn
Porgy and Bess / Gershwin
Robertson / Blue, Schultz, Moore, Graves, Ballentine, Owens, Walker, Singletary