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CFA’s Postcard from Morocco opens tonight

The characters in Postcard from Morocco are stuck at a train station that could be in any decaying industrial town, or in purgatory. Their fate is determined by their baggage. A College of Fine Arts production of this surreal, modern opera opens tonight at the BU Theatre.

“Our production finds itself drawn into the journey of the characters’ search for escape from the baggage of their individual lives,” says James Petosa, a CFA professor and director of the school of theatre, who is the stage director for Postcard from Morocco. “Who will manage to be freed and who isn’t?”

First performed in 1971, Dominick Argento’s Postcard from Morocco is a joint presentation of CFA’s Opera Institute and school of theatre and runs through Sunday, February 25.

While each opera presents its own challenges to performers, Petosa says, the lack of tradition inherent in a modern opera allows for more experimentation. “We can embrace our own discoveries without any limiting sense of conventional expectancy,” he says. “I think it is always important to hold onto that right with any piece, but in this case it is particularly freeing.”

With a cast of 18 singers and actors, the production enables voice, theater, and design students to hone their skills. “They receive credit, but more importantly they all develop as artists throughout the entire process, from the first time they open the score to the last note they sing on closing night,” says the opera’s conductor, William Lumpkin, a CFA associate professor and music director of the Opera Institute.

“One of the biggest challenges is to find a balance between being a musician and an actor,” says Michelle Johnson (CFA’07), who is working toward an opera certificate from the Opera Institute. “At times, because the music is very challenging, I find myself losing the character and focusing solely on the music, but James Petosa and William Lumpkin are wonderful at keeping the cast on track.”

The rhythmically complex music is made more challenging, Lumpkin says, by an accompaniment of just eight instruments, in contrast to the full orchestra of a standard opera.

“Not only is it musically and rhythmically difficult, but it is also dramatically complex,” says Sarah Beckham (CFA’07), a master’s student in music. “I am having to spend a lot of time off-stage, just working on the piece vocally.”

The stage designers were faced with creating an exotic setting that was neither too specific nor too ambiguous, giving the audience a sense of place without distinguishing a location. “We have taken on the task of conjuring a metamorphical purgatory that seems to have never existed,” says Petosa, “but to have always existed at the same time.”

Postcard from Morocco opens Thursday, February 22, at 7:30 p.m. at the BU Theatre Mainstage, 264 Huntington Ave., Boston. The opera will be performed on Friday, February 23, and Saturday, February 24, at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, February 25, at 2 p.m. Members of the BU community receive one free ticket per BU ID at the door on the day of the performance, subject to availability. Tickets are $15 for BU alumni, Huntington Theatre Company subscribers, WGBH members, students, and senior citizens, and $20 for the general public. Tickets can be purchased online at www.bostontheatrescene.com, by phone at 617-933-8600, or at the BU Theatre box office.

Catherine Santore can be reached at csantore@bu.edu.

Click below for an excerpt from CFA’s 2000 performance of Postcard from Morocco.