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Dominick Argento's The Voyage of Edgar Allan Poe was the signal hit of Lyric Opera's season. Now his 1971 opera Postcard From Morocco, in a staging also by Frank Galati, promises to do the same for Chicago Opera Theater. A long one-act, Postcard has a plot that's as old (and contrived) as Grand Hotel. On the eve of World War I, seven travelers find themselves stranded in a hothouse train station somewhere in Morocco. As the action unfolds, each character clings obsessively to a box or suitcase, as if hiding from view relics of a painful or cherished past. The opera then proceeds like group therapy--exorcising these psychological demons through cruel confrontations and comforting coincidences. Argento and his librettist John Donahue have deftly paced the episodes of revelation so that when the denouement comes--when the protagonist's box is forced open--it is at once startling and moving. The eclectic, mood-evoking score--with echoes of Britten, Stravinsky, and Puccini--is vintage Argento, flowing gracefully and poetically. In this production the fine young cast (assembled by COT founder Alan Stone) is headed by Phyllis Pancella (as Lady With a Hat Box), Gloria Capone (as Lady With a Cake Box), and Matthew Lord (Man With Paint Box). In charge of one of the best midsize pit orchestras is Hal France, a seasoned interpreter of contemporary American operas. Wednesday, 7:30 PM, next Saturday, May 11, 8 PM, and next Sunday, May 12, 3 PM, Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport; 663-0048.

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