Even though you’ll remain in your seat for the just-over-two-hour running time of Lyric Opera’s Florencia En El Amazonas, you’ll feel as if you yourself have been on Florencia’s love-fueled journey down the Amazon River by the time you’re rushing to join the standing ovation for soprano Ana María Martínez.
Much of this feeling has to do with the way that light plays against the colossal, two-story river boat that set designer Peter J. Davison has conjured on Lyric’s stage. Paired with S. Katy Tucker’s lush, natural projections, lighting designer Mark Mccullough paints the buff-colored boat in evocative, brilliant hues. The culminating effect transports us and cast alike, taking the cast of seven deep into the sunsets, storms, and sunrises of the Amazonian jungle as shadows grow and diminish across the ship’s structure. The scenery changes little, yet these design touches and a revolving stage vividly transport us to the heart of the jungle.
Spanish-Language Opera Takes Lyric Opera’s Mainstage
In a first for Lyric, Florencia En El Amazonas marks the mainstage debut of a Spanish-language opera. The driving beat of drumming anchors the storytelling in the jungle even as the orchestra swells during heightened moments of romance and drama. All of this keeps the action moving forward with the driving force of a river’s current.
The late Daniel Catán is notable as one of Mexico’s finest opera composers, and the music in Florencia illustrates his talents, in this writer’s opinion. Catán’s arias, which are lyrically focused on the highs and lows of romantic entanglements, are suffused with a deep longing fitting to each character’s circumstances. There is something very accessible about attending a contemporary opera composed in the second-most-spoken language in the United States.
Magical Realism and Opera a Winning Combination
The story at the heart of Catán’s opera—that of a famed, yet reclusive, diva journeying by boat to perform in Manaus, Brazil—is infused with magical realism. Inspired by the works of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (and with several nods to his work Love in the Time of Cholera), Florencia En El Amazonas mixes fantasy with naturalism to deepen the emotions and events of its story in ways this reviewer found both subtle and surprising. Characters literally and figuratively go through a metamorphosis due to their journey down river on the El Dorado. Just wait until you witness the omnipresent Riolobo (baritone Ethan Vincent) and his mysterious relationship with the river and the Amazons who inhabit it!
Under the direction of Francesca Zambello, opera proves to be an ideal theatrical home for magical realism away from prose-based forms like the novel or novella. Thanks to opera’s ability to bring together the emotional resonance of Catán’s soaring score, top-notch operatic performances, and large-scale spectacle drawing on visual design, dance, and stage magic, Florencia Grimaldi’s voyage is rendered in all of the trappings of the genre avid readers of Garcia Marquez could hope for, in this writer’s opinion.
Florencia En El Amazonas will especially appeal to opera lovers and devout fans of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
Thru November 28, 2021
November 14, 18, 21, 26, 28
Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes, including one intermission
20 North Wacker Drive
Chicago, IL 60606
About the Author: Brent Ervin-Eickhoff
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