FLORENCIA GRIMALDI: Soprano
The steamboat El Dorado is sailing down the Amazon in the early 1900s. The passengers are travelling to hear the legendary but intensely private opera singer Florencia Grimaldi sing at the reopening of the theatre in Manaus. Riolobo, a mystical character who can assume many forms introduces the embarking passengers: Paula and Alvaro, a middle-aged couple attempting to rekindle their marriage; Rosalba, a journalist researching a biography on Grimaldi; and Florencia herself, travelling alone and incognito, harboring a burning desire to find her long-lost lover Cristóbal, a butterfly-hunter, whose love unlocked her staggering powers of musical expression.
Once en route, Rosalba accidentally drops her research notes overboard. The Captain's nephew, Arcadio manages to rescue them, and the pair becomes aware of a strong mutual attraction. The evening concludes as Paula and Alvaro's attempt at a romantic dinner dissolves into a bitter quarrel. Initially unaware of her identity, the Captain tells Florencia of the fate of Cristóbal, who disappeared without trace in the jungle, thus dashing her dearest ambition. As a heated card game brings out the contrasting sexual and hostile tensions between Rosalba and Arcadio, and Paula and Alvaro, a violent storm brews outside. In saving the ship from being crushed, Alvaro is swept overboard; the Captain is knocked unconscious and despite Arcadio's efforts at the helm, the ship runs aground.
Paula mourns the loss of Alvaro, realizing that it was pride and not lack of love that stood between them. Riolobo appears again mysteriously to return Alvaro to the ship, claiming that Paula's laments saved him from death. Rosalba, distraught that her notebook has been ruined in the storm, talks to the incognito Florencia about her research. During the ensuing discussion on Grimaldi, Florencia declares passionately that Grimaldi's gift was a result of her love for Cristóbal. Rosalba realizs that she is talking to her heroine and, hearing her story, decides her own love for Arcadio shouldn't be suppressed.
A Note from Francesca Zambello
Florencia en el Amazonas is a work I am grateful to have been a part of from the inception when it was commissioned by David Gockley for the Houston Grand Opera in the mid ‘90’s. When I first met Daniel Catán, I could feel he was a composer full of passion and a burning life spirit. He cast a theatrical spell over me as he described how he wanted to create a unique musical and dramatic opera that would match the magical realism writing style of Gabriel García Márquez. He said he was searching how to find the musical language that could possibly parallel the poetry of Márquez. I believe he captured it with his sound world in this opera.
From the 1980s into the early 21st century, some three million Colombians were displaced by political and drug-related violence. It was during this period in the 1990s that I went to Colombia along with composer Catán and librettist Marcela Fuentes-Berain and others on the team to visit Gabriel García Márquez with the intention of using material from his novels to create a plot for a new opera in Spanish.
We flew to Márquez's walled compound deep in the jungle near Cartagena in an open helicopter with protection from armed guards with machine guns. We landed on a helipad near his compound and went through the underbrush in a Jeep with our protectors. If that was not enough of a thriller, then meeting and working with Márquez is a memory for life. You could see the essence of his very being was like the magical realism that spilled onto the pages of his novels. He helped our team to plan and create the tale of the libretto which was executed by his student Marcela and captured by the sound world of Daniel’s music.
After our time in his compound, we went on to visit the Colombian state of Amazonas, where the river begins, to experience its spirit and try to capture it for the stage. Once we checked into the aptly named Hotel Anaconda we went trekking through the jungle and then onto a riverboat. Our guide thought it was absolutely necessary we see a real anaconda as we were hiking. Once is enough in my lifetime!
After our life-changing visit, Daniel wrote an opera that gives us an unabashedly lyrical and sensual score which evokes the world of the Amazon river and the magical realism of Márquez. The story is told through the deeply moving portraits of two couples of varying ages who are experiencing different aspects of love in their relationships. Their love stories are set against the search of Florencia and her dream to reunite with her lover Cristobal, a butterfly hunter, in the jungle. I often felt that Daniel was portraying parts of his own life from each of these characters.
We successfully premiered the work in 1996 at the Houston Grand Opera. I have directed it numerous times in theaters in North and Latin America, where unfailingly the music and story cast a spell on all. – Francesca Zambello, Francesca Zambello, Artistic & General Director of The Glimmerglass Festival, Artistic Director of The Washington National Opera