Get to Know: Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas

Lyric recently announced some highlights of the 2021/22 Season, one of which will be the Lyric Opera of Chicago premiere of Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas. Learn more about this magical opera before tickets go on sale next year:

Mexican-born composer Daniel Catán (1949-2011) is best known for his Spanish-language contributions to the international operatic repertoire. Catán’s Rappaccini’s Daughter became the first Mexican opera to be produced in the U.S. by a professional opera company. Shortly after the success of Florencia en el Amazonas in 1996, Catán’s Salsipuedes: a Tale of Love, War and Anchovies premiered at the Houston Grand Opera and Il Postino premiered at the Los Angeles Opera. He received a Guggenheim Fellowship Award for his contributions to music. In his lifetime, Catán composed music for ballet, chorus, chamber ensembles, film, theater, television, solo voice, orchestra, and opera.

The libretto for Florencia en el Amazonas was written by one of Catán’s pupils, Marcela Fuentes-Berain, and was based on the characters of the Gabriel García Márquez novel, Love in the Time of Cholera. Márquez is considered one of the most significant Spanish-language authors of the 20th century, having won the 1972 Neustadt International Prize for Literature and the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature.

The opera details the journey of the legendary diva Florencia Grimaldi and her fellow passengers on a boat ride down the Amazon. As they travel through the magical rainforest toward their destination, the opera house in Manaus, each passenger harbors a secret hope of what the trip will bring.

Catán described the opera as “the journey to transcendent love…with all its intricacies, subtleties, wretchedness, and glorious happiness.” Says Lyric’s general director, president & CEO, Anthony Freud, agreed: “Catán’s music has Puccini-like romance and expansiveness, but it also has the Márquez characteristic of magical realism. It’s a really beautiful piece.” Houstonia magazine declared that “the magic of this production lies in the visuals” and the Wall Street Journal called Catán’s score “a lush, colorful cross between Puccini and Ravel.”

Here are some other important things to note about the opera and Lyric’s production:

  • Florencia en el Amazonas was the first Spanish-language opera commissioned by a major American opera company, and it is the first traditional Spanish-language opera to be performed at Lyric. (The two mariachi operas premiered and presented by Lyric comprise their own hybrid category.)

  • Since the opera’s 1996 premiere at Houston Grand Opera, Florencia has also been performed at Seattle Opera, Los Angeles Opera, Florida Grand Opera, Cincinnati Opera, Opera Colorado, Utah Opera, Washington National Opera, Nashville Opera, Arizona Opera, New York City Opera, the University of Illinois School of Music, and Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

  • Magic realism is a Latin-American narrative strategy that weaves fantastical or mythical characters or elements seamlessly into realistic fiction and visual arts (e.g. the paintings of Frida Kahlo).

  • The 2002 Houston Grand Opera recording of Florencia en el Amazonas features Lyric favorite Ana María MartÍnez as Rosalba and Suzanna Guzmán as Paula, who also originated the role of Paula in 1996.

Photos: Lynn Lane / Houston Grand Opera