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Thread: Florencia in the Amazon at the Washington National Opera, Washington, DC

          
   
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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    Florencia in the Amazon at the Washington National Opera, Washington, DC

    Florencia in the Amazon by Daniel Catan, libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, premiered at the Houston Grand Opera, Houston, Texas, in 1996.

    Conductor: Carolyn Kuan
    Director: Francesca Zambello
    Set Designer: Robert Israel
    Choreographer: Eric Sean Fogel

    Cast (In order of vocal appearance)

    Riolobo: Norman Garrett
    Rosalba: Andrea Carroll
    Paula: Nancy Fabiola Herrera
    Alvaro: Michael Todd Simpson
    The Captain: David Pittsinger
    Florencia: Melody Moore (Note: I forgot to switch my ticket to the performance with Christine Goerke)
    Arcadio: Patrick O'Halloran
    and Dancers..

    This is a WNO co-production with LA Opera and San Francisco Opera

    Sung in Spanish

    Florencia in the Amazon represents a continuation of Washington National Opera's obsession with presenting a contemporary work each season - in Director Francesca Zambello's letter in The Kennedy Center Playbill, she writes "It fuses the ideas and themes we are working on to represent who we are at WNO today: we are introducing you to the work of a contemporary composer, Daniel Catan, based on the important literary ideas of Gabriel Garcia Marquez..." Zambello, in the same letter, then goes on to tell a long story about her meeting with Catan and Marquez in Columbia, and how fabulous it was (not that I have anything against stories, mind you). Nothing said about Catan's vision as a composer, but lots about how successful the opera has been, how thrilled she is to present an opera sung in Spanish, the second-most spoken language in the U.S.


    Upon entering the opera house, the stage was set with the curtain pulled and a scrim displaying lush rainforest foliage with animated butterflies. As the opera opens, the scrim went up to reveal a steamship on the Amazon:

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    The course of the opera follows a group of people, including the famous singer Florencia Grimaldi, on a trip down the Amazon to the town of Manaus, where Florencia will be performing. The people on the boat don't recognize her, and all sing about their hopes and dreams and various experiences with love - difficulties, how passionate they are and, in the case of Florencia, loss, whose real purpose on the journey is returning to find her butterfly collector love, whom she left behind in South America when she left to pursue her singing career. The character Riolobo, described as river sprite, acts both as a narrator and a character on the boat. Dancers dance, in an apparent attempt to clarify the connection between the travelers and the river. There is a storm where Alvaro falls overboard, a book manuscript falls into the river - and both Alvaro and the manuscript are rescued by Riolobo in Act II. Oh yes, when the boat docks at Manaus, there is a cholera epidemic.

    That's about all that happens. According to Wikipedia Gabriel García Márquez's main notion in Love in the Time of Cholera, with which the opera is associated, is that lovesickness is literally an illness, a disease comparable to cholera. I guess, now that I read that, I can see what Catan was trying to do, but during the opera I was frustrated by what seemed to be a lot of whining about how unhappy everyone on the steamship was, such that the symbolism was lost on me.

    The opera is written in a distinctly lyrical style - sort of Puccini, but without the iconic soaring melodies. It is not, however, composed in the more (to my ear) typical contemporary style of choppy dissonant dialogue. The performance itself was really very good - the singers were attractive and very well cast. Riolobo is probably the most interesting character, and beautifully sung and acted with great physicality by baritone Norman Garrett. There wasn't a weak link in the cast, though I didn't really 'get' the point of the dancers, apparently added by Zambello for this production to try and strengthen the dramatic thrust of the libretto.

    It was all very nice, with some lovely music, but aside from the sense of dreaminess, no real passion and not much point. I would sum up the opera as, well, meh. I had to fight with myself to not leave during intermission, but am making a determined effort with contemporary opera to give the composer and the singers proper respect and the opportunity to win my interest.

    To be fair, I should add that the performance was warmly received by the Kennedy Center audience.

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    Opera Lively Media Consultant Top Contributor Member Ann Lander (sospiro)'s Avatar
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    Sounds fascinating Hoffmann, thank you for the detailed review.

    Did Florencia find her butterfly-collector lover?
    "The world calls them its singers and poets and artists and storytellers; but they are just people who have never forgotten the way to fairyland."
    Lucy Maud Montgomery

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    Opera Lively Staff Member Top Contributor Member Hoffmann's Avatar
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    No, no butterfly collector ever showed up. And, she did sing about it quite endlessly at the end, now that I think of it.

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    Opera Lively Moderator Top Contributor Member Soave_Fanciulla's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Hoffmann View Post
    No, no butterfly collector ever showed up. And, she did sing about it quite endlessly at the end, now that I think of it.
    Ha, the opera sounds like the volume of A la recherche du temps perdu where I abandoned the whole thing, due to the author whingeing on and on and on about his unrequited love for Albertine, with a good dose of hypochondria thrown in for good measure. You just feel like saying buck up, pull yourself together etc etc.
    Natalie

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