Florencia en el Amazonas, a romantic opera by Mexico-born composer Daniel Catán, is back with the LA Opera at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion through December 20. The touching story was inspired by the fiction of Gabriel García Márquez, the libretto written by his student Marcela Fuentes-Berain.
Florencia en el Amazonas, which is sung in Spanish, features a cast that includes five native Spanish speakers. Chilean soprano Verónica Villarroel, in her seventh leading role with the LA Opera, performs as the diva Florencia Grimaldi. Cuban-American soprano Lisette Oropesa debuts with the LA Opera as Rosalba. Baritone José Carbó, born in Argentina, makes his first L.A. appearance as Riolobo. Also included in the cast are Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz, Spanish mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera, American baritone Gordon Hawkins and American bass-baritone David Pittsinger. The conductor is Grant Gershon, LA Opera’s Resident Conductor, and Francesca Zambello restaged and directed the production, which she had first done at the LA Opera in 1997.
Florencia en el Amazonas is the story of a steamboat trip along the Amazon River that becomes a life changer for everyone on board. One of the passengers is Florencia, a famous prima donna who had left everything and everyone behind for the sake of her career and is now traveling back home in search for the man who had been the great love of her life – Cristóbal. Also on board are a husband-and-wife set hoping to rekindle their fizzling love, a writer wanting to finish the biography of the famous singer, the boat’s Captain and his unhappy nephew.
At the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, the opera is performed on a no-frills boat built on its magnificent stage. The boat turns 360 degrees to allow you to see the characters on various parts of the vessel as they interact with each other. Behind it, there is a projection that creates the illusion of travel up and down the river. A team of dancers represent the water’s movement. As they dance, and the boat’s passengers look out to them, one can imagine the strength they behold in the mighty Amazon. The visuals created during the storm are particularly beautiful.
Because the opera is in Spanish, it is accompanied by English supertitles, which, truthfully, become often useful even to a fluent Spanish speaker.
Catán’s music is gorgeous, delivered perfectly by the LA Opera orchestra. The orchestration includes 13 different percussion instruments, including cowbells, steel drums, and African Djembes, for an intense sound that well represents the intrigue of the jungle surrounding the Amazon. While the voices always hit the right notes, the true winner of this opera is its music.
Where Gabriel García Marquéz’s influence becomes most obvious is in the character of Riobolo, the spirit of the river. During the storm he pleads with the gods of the Amazon not to destroy the world, and they listen. The Director’s Note tells of Zambello’s visit to Colombia back in the 90s, along with composer Catán and librettist Fuentes-Berain, to see García Marquéz, the jungles in Colombia, and the river. “Meeting and working with Marquéz is a memory for life,” she writes. “You could see the essence of his very being was like the magical realism that spilled onto the pages of his novels.” That magic spills also into this opera.
Beautiful music, a touching story, and a fabulous venue make Florencia en el Amazonas a compelling reason to plan a night at the La Opera. Performances follow on Nov. 30, and Dec. 10, 14, 18, and 20. Tickets start at $18 and can be purchased in person at the LA Opera Box Office at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, by phone at 213.972.8001 or online LAOpera.org.
For more information about Florencia en el Amazonas, including full casting and ticketing information, visit LAOpera.org/Florencia.