October 26, 2021

The musical thrills of Florencia en el Amazonas

Lyric Opera of Chicago is thrilled to be presenting the company premiere of the beloved Spanish-language opera Florencia en el Amazonas. The story of a glamorous diva on a life-changing journey down the Amazon River, the opera is inspired by the literary work of legendary author Gabriel García Márquez. Steeped in the beautiful style of magical realism, Florencia premiered 25 years ago in October 1996, and has become a favorite, with productions at more than a dozen opera companies in the U.S., as well as companies in Mexico and Europe.

 Daniel Catán created an extraordinarily multi-colored, intoxicating fabric of sound in Florencia. Its pleasures begin with the very first moments of orchestral introduction, in which the strings seem to be already singing. In the opera's opening scene, as the street vendors begin to sell their wares at dockside, voices pile on top of each other with an infectious energy that may remind listeners of the opening of the bustling café scene of La bohème.

Act One: Chorus, “iEh! Jarabe para el amor!”

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 Much of Florencia's score is powerfully dramatic, but Catán provides numerous lighter moments as well. They include the quartet sung by Rosalba (soprano), Paula (mezzo-soprano), Arcadio (tenor), and Alvaro (baritone) as they play cards on deck. Their voices combine in a hugely enjoyable ensemble, characterized musically by a wonderful breezy buoyancy. Listeners will remember a particular, much-repeated phrase that has an exhilarating sweep about it, sung on the words "Esa es la diferencia" ("That is the difference"). The quartet is preceded by one of this opera's several gorgeous orchestral interludes. It's highlighted by delicious writing for flute, inspired by the birds Catán observed during his own trip down the Amazon.

Act One: Quartet, “¡Un aso de corazones!”

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 In Act Two, Catán’s music for the Rosalba/Arcadio duet is an invitation for two glowing voices to really take wing. Arcadio had thought Rosalba had died. As a result, this reunion finds them so ecstatic that, at the start, they can do nothing but simply repeat each other’s name in soaring full voice, accompanied by the surging orchestra. Once they calm down, the music transitions into a deeply affecting lyricism, including unison passages for the two singers that provide audiences with vocal thrills as memorable as in the most romantic duets of Puccini. (This actually turns into a “reverse love duet”: Rosalba is reluctant to yield to Arcadio’s love, and both are afraid it would end badly between them.)

Act Two: Duet, “¿Arcadio? ¿Arcadio?” ¿Rosalba? ¿Rosalba?”

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 As for Florencia herself, audiences can count on an abundance of exquisite music ideally suited to this warm, ultra-feminine, passionate diva. Her final monologue is the glorious climax of the role, with the intensely expressive vocal line constantly supported by a fabulously lush orchestral accompaniment. In these final moments of the opera, as Florencia seems to feel the presence of her lost lover all around her, Catán lavishes on his heroine one soaring, grand-scale phrase after another. In the numerous moments when her voice leaps up to a soft, sustained top note, the music is positively heartstopping in its sheer beauty.

Act Two, Florencia’s final monologue, “¿Dónde estás, Cristóbal?”

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Florencia en el Amazonas runs from November 13 – 28 at Lyric Opera of Chicago. Learn more, and purchase tickets from $39, here.

November 13 – 28, 2021

Florencia en el Amazonas

Florencia en el Amazonas

Lyric’s first Spanish-language work to be presented as part of the mainstage opera season, this story about a glamorous diva on a life-changing adventure on the Amazon is suffused by the entrancing allure of magical realism. Florencia Grimaldi, a renowned diva, is engaged to perform at the opera house of Manaus, Brazil. Traveling there by boat, she’s consumed by longing for her long-lost lover, who she hopes will be awaiting her. Florencia and her fellow passengers are all intensely memorable characters, and they’re illuminated by the magnificent, sumptuous romantic music created by a true musical genius — Mexico’s finest opera composer, Daniel Catán.

Header Photo: Houston Grand Opera's 2019 production of Florencia en el Amazonas. Credit: Lynn Lane
All other photos: Lynn Lane