The Valley Line: Tending to their knitting

Even though the weather is performing like it is the middle of summer, I'm getting into an autumn frame of mind. I have already hung a wreath of colorful leaves on my front door. Later this week I'm going to cover the lamppost at the corner of my driveway with cornstalks, and string garlands of colorful leaves up to its old-fashioned globe.

Maybe this will inspire Mother Nature to turn the burners down to low. It's time for her to bring out her box of paints to color some of the leaves on the liquidambar trees lining Princess Anne Road bright hues of red, gold and orange.

This past weekend I was talking to a friend in New Hampshire and she said that the sugar maple trees in her neighborhood were just beginning to get into an autumn mood.

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My profession as a journalist often leads me to places I wouldn't normally go. Last week I found myself in a rehearsal hall of the Los Angeles Opera where the artists are putting the finishing touches on the company's season-opening and world-premiere production of composer and librettist Daniel Catan's "Il Postino." This specially commissioned work also marks the silver anniversary of this Los Angeles opera company.

There is a lot of buzz about this production, and the world will be listening when this production about a Chilean poet washes ashore at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion on Sept. 23.

Celebrated tenor Placido Domingo will sing the title role of the poet Pablo Neruda in the opera, which will be sung in Spanish. The opening-night excitement of the opera will be broadcast and streamed live worldwide on Classical KUSC 91.5 FM.

Domingo, who is general director of L.A. Opera, will be an extremely busy man during the season opening. Not only will he be singing the role of Neruda in "Il Postino," but he will also be conducting Mozart's opera, "The Marriage of Figaro," on Sept. 26.

At a recent press conference Domingo said, "For several years, Daniel Catan and I had wanted to collaborate on a new work. When he told me that he was working on an operatic adaptation of "Il Postino," I immediately felt that Pablo Neruda was a role that I very much wanted to bring to life."

Catan, the composer, said he was inspired by the 1994 Italian film of the same name. "I realized from the very first time I saw the film that it was a suitable theme for an opera. It deals with art and love, the foundations upon which we build our lives. Love is what makes us human. Art is our most sophisticated tool for achieving that humanity. And opera is one of the most complete art forms ever imagined, for it includes music and poetry."

Over the 25 years of the L.A. Opera's existence, musicians and singers who live in La Cañada Flintridge and the foothills area have taken part in its many productions. In addition, a dedicated list of volunteers of foothill-area residents has joyfully given many hours of assistance to the opera company. These residents have performed a plethora of jobs ranging from acting as translators for foreign-speaking performers to picking up performers at the airport, serving food during rehearsals, and even watching over the young singers from the L.A. Children's Chorus, who often sing in opera productions.

Getting back to my afternoon in the opera's rehearsal hall — I arrived early for the press conference and immediately noticed a lovely young woman sitting at the back of the hall. I stuck up a conversation with her because she was knitting. Since I too am a knitter, we began talking about this time-honored craft. She explained that she was a neophyte knitter and the beautiful scarf that she was creating was for her husband.

She said her name was Amanda Squitieri. As we continued our chat, she then said that she was part of the "Il Postino" cast.

I was soon to find out that Amanda, who was born in Italy, is an exquisite soprano who is singing the role of the beautiful café waitress Beatrice Russo. In the production of "Il Postino," she is the love interest of Mario Ruoppolo, sung by tenor Charles Castronovo who, although he grew up in Los Angeles, as a noted opera singer is a resident of the world.

As we continued our conversation about knitting and yarns, Amanda said that there is a scene in "Il Postino" that shows fishermen who are knitting as they mend their nets. She also mentioned that she was happy to be learning such an ancient art.

She said that she has been led into this craft by Andrea Catan, wife of the composer of "Il Postino." Also joining this star-studded "Postino" knitting group are cast members Christina Gallardo-Domas, Nancy Herrera and Nino Sanikidze.

It was such a delight to be introduced to Amanda and knit-talk before the press conference began. It was one of those serendipitous life meetings that I will treasure forever.

After the conference, we were served lunch. Sitting at my table was Castronovo, who has the role of Mario. The handsome Castronovo charmed all of us and talked about how he began his singing career. His story was a surprising one, as he said he once belonged to three different garage bands singing Beatles songs. He then joined his high-school choir and discovered that he had a voice that could be directed far beyond a rock sound. With much more study and training, Castronovo has become a world-class tenor singing opera in the great opera venues of the planet.

I'm certain that "Il Postino" will be making musical world-wide waves when it opens L.A. Opera's 25th season.

JANE NAPIER NEELY covers the La Cañada social scene. E-mail her at jnvalleysun@aol.com.

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