Subscribe to
Opera Today

Receive articles and news via RSS feeds or email subscription.


facebook-icon.png


twitter_logo[1].gif



9780393088953.png

9780521746472.png

0810888688.gif

0810882728.gif

Recently in Reviews

Vaughan Williams Dona nobis pacem - BBC Prom 41

Prom 41 at the Royal Albert Hall, London, with Edward Gardner conducting the BBCSO in Vaughan Williams's Dona nobis pacem, Elgar's Cello Concerto (Jean-Guihen Queyras) and Lili Boulanger . Extremely perceptive performances that revealed deep insight, far more profound than the ostensible "1918" theme

Lisbon under ashes - rediscovered Portuguese Baroque

In 1755, Lisbon was destroyed, first by a massive earthquake, then by a tsunami pouring in from the Atlantic, then by fire and civil unrest. The scale of the disaster is almost unimaginable today. The centre of the Portuguese Empire, with treasures from India, Africa, Brazil and beyond, was never to recover. The royal palaces, with their libraries and priceless collections, were annihilated.

John Wilson brings Broadway to South Kensington: West Side Story at the BBC Proms

There were two, equal ‘stars’ of this performance of the authorised concert version of Leonard Bernstein’s West Side Story at the Royal Albert Hall: ‘Lenny’ himself, whose vibrant score - by turns glossy and edgy - truly shone, and conductor John Wilson, who made it gleam, and who made us listen afresh and intently to every coloristic detail and toe-tapping, twisting rhythm.

Prom 36: Webern, Mahler, and Wagner

One of the joys of writing regularly – sometimes, just sometimes, I think too regularly – about performance has been the transformation, both conscious and unconscious, of my scholarship.

Prom 33: Thea Musgrave, Phoenix Rising, and Johannes Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, op.45

I am not sure I could find much of a connection between the two works on offer here. They offered ‘contrast’ of a sort, I suppose, yet not in a meaningful way such as I could discern.

Gianni Schicchi by Oberlin in Italy

It’s an all too rare pleasure to see Puccini’s only comedy as a stand alone opera. And more so when it is a careful production that uncovers the all too often overlooked musical and dramatic subtleties that abound in Puccini’s last opera.

Sarah Connolly and Joseph Middleton journey through the night at Cadogan Hall

The mood in the city is certainly soporific at the moment, as the blistering summer heat takes its toll and the thermometer shows no signs of falling. Fittingly, mezzo-soprano Dame Sarah Connolly and pianist Joseph Middleton presented a recital of English song settings united by the poetic themes of night, sleep, dreams and nightmares, juxtaposing masterpieces of the early-twentieth-century alongside new works by Mark-Anthony Turnage and Australian composer Lisa Illean, and two ‘long-lost’ songs by Britten.

Vanessa: Keith Warner's Glyndebourne production exposes truths and tragedies

“His child! It must not be born!” Keith Warner’s new production of Samuel Barber’s Vanessa for Glyndebourne Festival Opera makes two births, one intimated, the other aborted, the driving force of the tragedy which consumes two women, Vanessa and her niece Erika, rivals for the same young man, Anatol, son of Vanessa’s former lover.

Rollicking Rossini in Santa Fe

Santa Fe Opera welcomed home a winningly animated production of L’Italiana in Algeri this season that utterly delighted a vociferously responsive audience.

Rock solid Strauss Salomé- Salzburg

Richard Strauss Salomé from the Salzburg Festival, conducted by Franz Welser-Möst, a powerful interpretation of an opera which defies easy answers, performed and produced with such distinction thast it suceeds on every level. The words "Te saxa Loquuntur" (The stones are speaking to you) are projected onto the stage. Salzburg regulars will recognize this as a reference to the rock foundations on which part of the city is built, and the traditions of excellence the Festival represents. In this opera, the characters talk at cross-purposes, hearing without understanding. The phrase suggests that what might not be explicitly spoken might have much to reveal.

Prom 26: Dido and Cleopatra – Queens of Fascination

In this, her Proms debut, Anna Prohaska offered something akin to a cantata of two queens, complementary and contrasted: Dido and Cleopatra. Returning in a sense to her ‘early music’ roots – her career has always been far richer, more varied, but that world has always played an important part – she collaborated with the Italian ‘period’ ensemble, Il Giardino Armonico and Giovanni Antonini.

Parsifal: Munich Opera Festival

And so, this year’s Munich Opera Festival and this year’s Bavarian State Opera season came to a close with everyone’s favourite Bühnenweihfestspiel, Parsifal, in the final outing this time around for Pierre Audi’s new production.

Santa Fe: Atomic Doesn’t Quite Ignite

What more could we want than having Peter Sellars re-imagine his acclaimed staging of John Adams’ Doctor Atomic at the renowned Santa Fe Opera festival?

Santa Fe: Continuing a Proud Strauss Tradition

Santa Fe Opera has an enduring reputation for its Strauss, and this season’s enjoyable Ariadne auf Naxos surely made John Crosby smile proudly.

From the House of the Dead: Munich Opera Festival

Frank Castorf might have been born to direct From the House of the Dead. In this, his third opera project - or better, his third opera project in the opera house, for his Volksbühne Meistersinger must surely be reckoned with, even by those of us who did not see it - many of his hallmarks and those of his team are present, yet without the slightest hint of staleness, of anything other than being reborn for and in the work.

Haydn's Orlando Paladino in Munich

Should you not like eighteenth-century opera very much, if at all, and should you have no or little interest in Haydn either, this may have been the production for you. The fundamental premise of Axel Ranisch’s staging of Orlando Paladino seems to have been that this was a work of little fundamental merit, or at least a work in a genre of little such merit, and that it needed the help of a modern medium - perhaps, it might even be claimed, an equivalent medium - to speak to a contemporary audience.

Donizetti's 'Regiment' Ride the Highway: Opera della Luna at Wilton's Music Hall

'The score … is precisely one of those works that neither the composer nor the public takes seriously. The harmony, melody, rhythmic effects, instrumental and vocal combinations; it’s music, if you wish, but not new music. The orchestra consumes itself in useless noises…'

Bernstein Bemuses in New Mexico

Santa Fe Opera’s Candide is a nearly indefatigable romp that is currently parading on the Crosby Theatre stage, chockfull of inventive ideas.

Santa Fe Floats a Beauteous Butterfly

Two new stars moved triumphantly into the ongoing run of Santa Fe Opera’s mesmerizing rendition of Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.

Götterdämmerung in Munich

What I am about to write must be taken with the proviso that I have not seen, this year or any other, the rest of Andreas Kriegenburg’s Munich Ring. Friends tell me that would have made little difference, yet I cannot know for certain.

OPERA TODAY ARCHIVES »

Reviews

<em>Florencia en el Amazonas</em>: San Diego Opera
25 Mar 2018

San Diego’s Ravishing Florencia

Daniel Catán’s widely celebrated opera, Florencia en el Amazonas received a top tier production at the wholly rejuvenated San Diego Opera company.

Florencia en el Amazona: San Diego Opera

A review by James Sohre

Above: Cast of Florencia en el Amazonas

Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz

 

I had been hoping for years to catch up with a production of this acclaimed piece, but schedules have conflicted and life had intruded. Happily, I have made up for lost time, and the SDO mounting was so persuasive that I immediately vowed to seek out another performance of this masterwork at the earliest opportunity.

San Diego has long had a connection with the composer, having produced his Rappaccini’s Daughter (La hija de Rappaccini), the first work by a Mexican composer to be presented by a major opera house in the United States. The success of Rappaccini's Daughter brought Catán international attention, launching his musical career in the United States and sealing the commission of his next opera, Florencia en el Amazonas by the Houston Grand Opera .

In this local premiere, the piece was so lovingly mounted that it was clear the company was treating the work as the masterpiece it decidedly is. The lush score borrows stylistically from Puccini here, Debussy there, here a taste of Strauss, there a dash of Britten, but the unifying whole is peppered with Latin undertones and the voice is uniquely Catán’s.

Almost the entire plot unfolds on the deck of a ship sailing up the Amazon bound for Manaus. There, a legendary opera house awaits the return engagement of diva Florencia Grimaldi, performing a concert as she returns to her homeland to reunite with her lover Cristobal, a hunter of exotic butterflies. Her quest to rediscover her lover Cristobal is the whole driving force of the piece. Although she is traveling among other passengers in disguise, Florencia’s enigmatic persona drives the motivations of the other characters.

Soprano Elaine Alvarez is Florencia Grimaldi .jpgElaine Alvarez as Florencia Grimaldi. Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz.

The music making was superlative, starting with the vocals. In the title role, Elaine Alvarez made a stunning impression. Her pliable spinto soprano easily encompassed every demand of three wide-ranging arias. The rich, pulsing tone was absolutely even throughout the wide-ranging part, and her alluring vocal presence anchored the performance with a poised, polished musical presence. Ms. Alvarez made us abundantly aware of why the public was in awe of her towering talents.

Every bit her equal, María Fernanda Castillo was a luminous Rosalba, her plush lyric soprano soaring above the staff to provide many of the evening’s most goose bump inducing moments. Ms. Castillo’s substantial soprano is tinged with pure gold and her sympathetic phrasing endeared her to the spectators. As her partner in romance, dashing Daniel Montenegro (Arcadio) provided exceedingly poised singing in equal measure. Mr. Montenegro is not only an ingratiating lyric tenor, but also has a winning way with a high-lying, pulsing phrase that made a fine impression. As the two love interests, the pair provided one of the evening’s highlights with a rhapsodic Act II duet.

Maria Fernanda Castillo Rosalba Daniel Montenegro Arcadio.jpg Maria Fernanda Castillo as Rosalba and Daniel Montenegro was Arcadio. Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz.

Luis Alejandro Orozco was a galvanizing presence as Riolobo. Part narrator, part demigod, Mr. Orozo’s imposing baritone was a potent presence, and his shirtless strutting provided handsome eye candy for the opera glasses crowd.

As the bickering, dyspeptic married couple, Levi Hernandez (Alvaro) and Adriana Zabala (Paula) were alternately amusing, annoying, and ultimately, touching. Mr. Hernandez has a beefy baritone that communicates securely and sympathetically.

Ms. Zabala’s rather barbed opening pronouncements eventually morphed into some mellifluous phrases infused with deference and luminosity. Hector Vásquez was a solid presence as the stolid Capitán, his seasoned baritone ringing out with honesty and clarity. Chorus Master Bruce Stasyna’s well-schooled ensemble not only sang with glowing tone and dramatic fire, but also cleanly executed some inventive staging while doing it.

Conductor Joseph Mechavich worked wonders with the orchestra, mastering every harmonic surge and eliciting finely tuned detail from the pit. Maestro Mechavich also skillfully wed singers, dancers and instrumentalists into a seamless ensemble. He controlled the arc of the piece with refined skill, all the while he somehow magically made the outpouring of melodies and effects feel exuberantly spontaneous.

Luis Alejandro Orozco as Riolobo is joined by the San Diego Opera Chorus .jpgLuis Alejandro Orozco as Riolobo is joined by the San Diego Opera Chorus. Photo credit: J. Katarzyna Woronowicz.

The handsome physical production originated at Indiana University, but seemed a perfect fit for the resources of the Civic Theatre. A forty-two-foot, double-decker riverboat dominates the stage as part of Mark Frederic Smith’s masterful set design. It begins at a pier in the opera’s first scene, with a boathouse structure framing the action. However, as the craft soon sets sail on the murky Amazon, the house flies away, and lush foliage droops artistically around the action.

The effect never becomes tiresome since the ship rotates on a turntable to reveal different, detailed perspectives of its construction. When the ship beaches in the storm, terraced riverbanks swing into place down left and right, and up right, which afford mystical river creatures to gambol and pose with enigmatic abandon.

Those “creatures” (aka the chorus and corps de ballet) were lavishly costumed by Linda Piano, who seems to have limitless imagination. The masks, fanciful accessories, painted body stockings and footwear were meticulously coordinated, and were complemented marvelously by Steven W. Bryant’s wacky, winning wig and make-up design. Ms. Piano also created lovely, character specific period wear for the diva Florencia, upper and lower-class guests, and laborers, greatly helping to define the relationships.

Todd Hensley’s brooding, ever-changing lighting design perfectly captured the emotional shifts in the plot, as well as the climate changes on the river. His choices of color filters were especially apt. Only two effects might have been improved upon: the storm lightning was tracked to look too predictable, and the overall threat of the turbulent storm (as heard in the music) was not realized with enough abandon. And the climactic moment of Florencia transforming into a butterfly went for too little. The unfurling of the costume, creating two wings, was a great start, but the rotating star gobo was a far cry from the coup de theatre that was called for. Think Defying Gravity, Wicked’s Act One closer, where the main character soars up to the wings as the black cloth of her cape spreads to fill the entire backdrop around her, and you get some idea of the jaw-dropping effect that might be needed.

Still, director/choreographer Candace Evans worked wonders with her resources, achieving moments that were beautifully judged for character revelations and dramatic insights. Ms. Evans deployed her assemblage of spirits with aplomb, creating a fine diversity of groupings and movement without ever creating a distraction. Indeed, she instilled a keen sense of dramatic focus was one the productions strong suits.

From the downbeat and the start of the engaging musical effects, to the ascendant metamorphosis that rang the curtain down, this was one memorable river journey I wished would never end.

James Sohre

Daniel Catán: Florencia en el Amazonas

Florencia Grimaldi: Elaine Alvarez; Rosalba: María Fernanda Castillo; Riolobo: Luis Alejandro Orozco; Arcadio: Daniel Montenegro; Capitán: Hector Vásquez; Alvaro: Levi Hernandez; Paula: Adriana Zabala; Sailor: Bernardo Bermudez; Conductor: Joseph Mechavich; Director/Choreographer: Candace Evans; Set Design: Mark Frederic Smith; Lighting Design: Todd Hensley; Costume Design: Linda Piano; Wig and Make-up Design: Steven W. Bryant; Chorus Master: Bruce Stasyna.

Send to a friend

Send a link to this article to a friend with an optional message.

Friend's Email Address: (required)

Your Email Address: (required)

Message (optional):