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Performances

A scene from <em>Florencia in el Amazonas</em> [Photo by Tim Trumble]
30 Nov 2015

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

Florencia in el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera to be commissioned by major United States opera houses.

Arizona Opera Presents Florencia in el Amazonas

A review by Maria Nockin

Above: A scene from Florencia in el Amazonas [Photo by Tim Trumble]

 

Co-commissioned by Houston Grand Opera (HGO), Los Angeles Opera, and Seattle Opera, Florencia premiered on October 25, 1996. Since then, HGO has remounted it and Los Angeles Opera has staged it twice. The Opera de Bellas Artes in México City, as well as Seattle Opera and numerous other U.S. companies have each performed it once.

Daniel Catán composed a melodic score that brings modern tonal music to a fresh group of operagoers who attend the theater for the enjoyment of newly wrought melodies. Part of the inspiration for this story is Magic Realism, a literary style popularized by Colombian novelist Gabriel García Márquez. The opera’s librettist, Marcela Fuentes-Berain, who studied with Garcia Márquez, imbued her work with elements of the style, which includes the appearance of river spirits and, at the finale, a magnificently colored butterfly. On November 13, 2015, Director Joshua Borths brought Magic Realism to life in the Arizona Opera production designed by Douglas Provost and Peter Nolle.

The lush, neo-Romantic colorations of Catán's orchestration reflect his impressions of the river’s unique sounds. Although his vocal lines recall early Puccini, Catán’s many-layered orchestral sonorities are reminiscent of the complexities heard in music by Richard Strauss, Heitor Villa-Lobos and the French Impressionists. Catán wrote that the greatest of his debts was having learnt that the originality of an opera need not involve the rejection of tradition but the assimilation of it. As a result, he wanted his twenty-first century opera to be a continuation of opera’s melodic tradition. In Phoenix, conductor Joseph Mechavich led a well-constructed and exciting performance of this lush, complex score.

The opera’s title character, Florencia, is a mature singer who returns home to the Amazon after years of success abroad. The music of this dramatic role requires a voice with the spin and polish of youth, however. Although Sandra Lopez was not the quintessential Florencia, she portrayed the role with passion and sang with a strong, resonant voice. Luis Alejandro Orozco was Riolobo, a member of the crew on the ship taking Florencia and several music lovers up the Amazon. Orozco’s charisma and smooth singing introduced the river’s magical world and he told the story with excellent diction. Imbued with the magic of the waters, River Spirits danced Molly Lajoie’s inventive choreography as they appeared and disappeared from its mists.

Susannah Biller was Rosalba, a young woman whose main interest was in documenting Florencia’s biography. Biller’s silvery tones acquired a luminous quality when her character fell in love with the Captain’s nephew, Arcadio, sung by the robust-voiced Andrew Bidlack. His ringing, lyrical tones blended beautifully with the clarity of Biller’s notes. Levi Hernandez and Adriana Zabala portrayed Paula and Alvaro, a couple who had begun to fall out of love. The river worked its magic, however and, as their voices began to blend, they rediscovered the love that had once bound them together. It was the ship’s Captain who led all these passengers on their trip into the life-changing mysteries of the river. Lyric bass baritone Calvin Griffin sang the role with a smooth dark voice as he commanded his beleaguered ship. It was a treat to see this lush, green opera in desert-dry Arizona! I hope Florencia in el Amazonas will make the rounds of many more regional opera companies. I know I would like to see it again in the near future.

Maria Nockin


Cast and production information:

Florencia Grimaldi, Sandra Lopez; Riolobo, Luis Alejandro Orozco; Rosalba, Susannah Biller; Arcadio, Andrew Bidlack; Paula, Adriana Zabala, Alvaro, Levi Hernandez; Capitán, Calvin Griffin; Conductor, Joseph Mechavich; Director, Joseph Borths; Lighting Designer, Douglas Provost; Scenic Designers, Douglas Provost, Peter Nolle; Costume Designer, Adriana Diaz; Chorus Master Henri Venanzi; Choreographer, Molly Lajoie.

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