There is a common misconception that melodic opera in the vein of the great romantics of the 19th century is dead in the 21st century. Most composers today would have you believe that. But Daniel Catán never did and his masterpiece “Florencia en el Amazonas” bears this out better than anyone else.
The work, which had its world premiere on Oct. 25, 1996 in Houston is full of lush melodic invention that harkens back to the style of Puccini and the verismo composers. The work’s romantically charged plot, which keeps its characters in one location, also manages to imbue the work with magical realism that not only sets it apart from most operas, but also plants it firmly as a 20th century creation.
The opera has grown in popularity over the years since its world premiere with performances all around the United States. Audiences in Los Angeles, Seattle, Nashville, Washington, Indiana, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Florida have been among those that have enjoyed the opera’s greatness. While the Metropolitan Opera has yet to bring the work to its stage, the New York City Opera has made it a point of presenting it.
Internationally, the opera has appeared in Mexico, Germany, and Colombia, among other countries.
Short Plot Summary
Famed soprano Florencia Grimaldi is returning to her homeland to sing at the opera house in Manaus with the hopes of reuniting with her long-lost love Cristóbal. She boards the steamboat El Dorado for a trip along the Amazon River.
Florencia doesn’t interact with many of the other passengers, hiding her identity from them. Among these passengers is Rosalba, a journalist writing a book on Florencia and hoping to interview her. Rosalba falls in love with Arcadio, the steamboat Captain’s nephew. The two play cards with Paula and Álvaro a couple with marital problems.
During a storm, the captains dies and Álvaro saves the boat before being overthrown. Arcadio takes over but the ship is grounded. The mysterious Ríolobo appears and calls upon the river gods to stop the storm.
Meanwhile, Florencia senses Cristóbal’s presence but can’t tell if he is alive or not. Meanwhile Rosalba rejects Arcadio, while Paula mourns the death of Álvaro. Riolobo returns and Álvaro is returned to the shit.
Rosalba, who has been constantly losing her notebook, eventually finds it ruined by the water. She fights with Florencia over the value of its contents until she realizes who she has been fighting with. Realizing Florencia’s love, she gives in to her passion for Arcadio.
When the group reaches Manaus, they are quarantined due to a cholera outbreak. Florencia is magically transformed into a butterfly, allowing her to be reunited with her lover, who was a butterfly hunter.
Watch and Listen
Here is a full recording of the work from Mexico City.