Tuesday, May 28

Florencia en el Amazonas – Met Opera Live in HD

With Marcela Fuentes-Berain’s libretto inspired by the magical realism of Gabriel García Márquez, Mexican composer Daniel Catán’s 1996 opera is an enchanting story about love with Mary Zimmerman’s new production establishing the story through a series of vignettes where we meet some of the passengers embarking on a trip to Manaus along the Amazon River, all with the goal of seeing the famed diva Florencia Grimaldi (Ailyn Pérez) perform at the legendary opera house. Unbeknown to them, she is actually travelling incognito among them on her own personal quest into the past to seek out her lover, Cristóbal, a butterfly catcher, who has gone missing in the jungle.

Love as the recurring central theme is explored further through the other passengers: Paula (Nancy Fabiola Herrera) and Alvaro (Michael Chioldi), an older married couple, struggle to come to terms with the toll of time on their relationship. The more youthful Rosalba (Gabriella Reyes) and Arcadio (Mario Chang) are confronted by their fear of new love whilst coming to terms with understanding their own purpose in life. Whilst the Captain (Greer Grimsley) provides the necessary anchor of stability for all of them, an all-seeing ship’s hand Riolobo (Mattia Olivieri) helps guide a misguided mankind to reconnect with the harmonious beauty of the natural world.

Unusually but pleasingly in this instance we are presented with seven lead roles and in an opera that places vocality at its heart, each and every one of them shines. Grimsley is imperially poised and grounded throughout, reflective of the solidity of his role in the piece, whereas Olivieri is more fluid, flowing like the river and the nature that surrounds it.

Reyes captures the free-spirited nature of Rosalba, matched perfectly by Chang whose soaring lines reflect his own desire to fly away; combining they express the intensity of young love. Herrera and Chioldi rightfully sing at odds with each other to reflect their decaying relationship although often mirroring each other vocally to hint at the underlying connection neither no longer sees.

Florencia gets the three longest solo passages in the opera, each building on the one before, and Pérez delights as she ascends into the highest range of the soprano before descending gently and softly in an emotional expression of her journey, with the climax as she transforms into a butterfly particularly moving.

This is only the third Spanish-language opera to be presented at the Met and given that the first two were over a century ago and by Spanish composers, it is a significant achievement that this is the first from a Latin American country. In contrast to more recent modern operatic offerings, Catán embraced opera’s traditions in a modern context providing the perfect balance between new and familiar, with his unashamedly romantic score demonstrating the influence of Puccini. Maestro Yannick Nézet-Séguin perfectly brings a seamless cohesion allowing the orchestra to express their musicality freely and clearly in perfect accompaniment to the vocal.

The staging and set however don’t come anywhere near to matching the richness that this opera requires, and this production deserved, with some of it looking decidedly unstable. The green backdrops could have offered so much more than a plain tapestry to play surtitles across and the desire to include an array of theatrical forms looked messy. The idea of dancers to represent the flora and fauna sounds good on paper but in reality felt and looked more akin to a primary school production. It’s a shame because everything else hit the right notes so the real pleasure was to just close one’s eyes and be swept away by the orchestra and vocal washing over me.

Reviewer: Mark Davoren

Reviewed: 9th December 2023

North West End UK Rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5.