Teatro Colón de Bogota 2018-19 Review: Florencia En El Amazonas
Daniel Catan’s Masterpiece Gets Solid Production With Some Uneven SingingBy Francisco Salazar
The world of late 20th and 21st-century opera is a strange one. On one hand, there are a plethora of new works appearing, only to be one and done. Some manage a few more performances, though they might not manage a way to cross international borders.
Then there are the handful of recent works that actually have a continued life and find themselves ever closer to establishing a foothold in the international repertoire. “Dead Man Walking” is one that immediately comes to mind. “Florencia en el Amazonas” is the other.
Daniel Catán’s masterwork is one of melodic beauty and contemporary experimentation, the late Mexican composer able to mix a Puciniesque style without losing sight of his Latin roots.
The work appeared in Bogotá, Colombia in 2017, but recently premiered at the Teatro Colón in a visually stimulating production with a cast of solid Colombian singers.
A Visual Splendor
“Florencia en el Amazonas” asks a lot of the director, from conjuring up a storm to performing shapeshifting, to traveling through the titular river. These are not easy tasks but in the hands of Pedro Salazar, the Amazon came to life.
The production consists of three large movable parts of a boat that shapeshifted into different areas of the ship as the story progressed. It was quite clever as it allowed for efficient scene changes and always kept the production visual. There were also a number of supers who moved throughout the evening, going from sailors to becoming parts of the ocean.
But the true spectacle of the evening was the use of projection. Filmed in parts of the Amazon, the video images showcased the beauty of the sunsets, the sunrises, the movements of the water, and numerous Flora. It not only created the environment but allowed audiences to immerse themselves in the setting, providing a true sense that the boat on stage was moving.
An Emotional Lead
In the title role, Ana María Ruge gave a performance that was at times frustrating. At times her singing was rugged and inconsistent, while at others it had truly heart-wrenching moments.
When she first came on to the stage to sing her solo aria, Ruge sounded a bit nervous. Her voice wobbled and her pitched erred repeatedly. Moreover, her upper range felt strained throughout this opening section. However, she eventually gained control, projecting a gorgeous pianissimo line that expressed the character’s fragile state.
Her subsequent duet with the Captain showed Ruge in top form as she unleashed a beautiful sound that combined well with bass Hyalmar Mitrotti’s voice. Here we got to see more of Florencia’s insecurities and Ruge hiding her face in order to conserve her identity. The soprano also gave her upper range an intensity that showcased the character’s pain and despair for her lost lover.
But it was indeed the second act that brought the best moments in Ruge’s performance. Her duet with Rosalba showed her strengths, as she gave Florencia a brightness through her timbre as well as greater flexibility in the upper range, expressing a sense of power. There was also a delicacy to the line that showed Florencia’s compassion towards Rosalba, providing strong motivation for her to finally revealing her identity.
She was also potent in the final scene. At the start of the aria, the soprano sang with sotto voce, which emphasized her character’s fear. But as the line rose and the orchestra continued to crescendo, so did Ruge’s soprano, elevating each line with a greater vocal strength. Ruge took off her cape revealing a butterfly dress that represented her transformation and sang with full tone, her voice ringing with puissance. While it was not always in tune, she gave each line an emotional pull that easily made audiences feel Florencia’s transcendent voyage. She eventually decrescendoed with the voice floating away to the orchestra’s final peaceful notes.
The role of Rosalba and Arcadio are arguably the biggest in the work as they have some of the longest duets and ensemble pieces.
Camila Toro, who played Rosalba, has a raw and at times strident tone that is not always easy to get used to. Her tone tends to get off key and the upper tessitura simply becomes wobbly. It’s not always pleasant especially when she sings piano. Her first duet with Arcadio was an example of this unstable pitch. When she was forced to go to the higher registers for the climaxes, the sound lost brightness, an uncomfortable pushing sound dominating the singing. It didn’t help that the orchestra continuously covered her and that her stage partner also overpowered her.
But on this night there were some powerful moments as well, particularly in her final Act two duet with Florencia. Here, she sang with a full tone and let out the raw emotions of Rosalba.
As Arcadio, tenor Manuel Franco possessed a gorgeous middle range. On this evening he phrased with an ardent tone that reminded us of the youthful and inexperienced sailor Arcadio is. One could see Franco’s innocent and timid looks toward Toro’s Rosalba.
He had golden tone until he had to enter the passaggio and beyond. Like Toro, his voice began to lose its bloom and an uncontrolled vibrato took over. There was a moment in the first act duet where Franco cracked as well and was forced to cut the C sharp short. Instead of becoming a passionate moment, it was one of unfortunate tension on the tenor; he got everyone’s attention, but for the wrong reason. It was a prevalent problem through the evening, particularly at the climactic moments of the Act one and two duets; Franco sounded tired by the end of these high points.
A Supporting Cast
As Paula, Monica Danilov was an imposing presence that explored her character’s insecurities, jealousy, and vigor. Her interactions with Alexios Trejos’ Alvaro showcased some humor but at the same time, there was tenderness.
Vocally, Danilov brought a solid mezzo in her opening duet, the quartet and the quintet always showcasing her technical prowess. And in the second act when Paula finally gets a solo, Danilov brought all the emotional range of her character that finally allowed audiences to see Paula’s internal feelings. Danilov began the aria lying down on the floor, uttering the first words with delicacy and fragility. But as she repeated the name “Alvaro,” she stood up to let her voice bloom. Here one could see the character’s suffering for the loss of her husband and as the aria developed, her timbre obtained a rounder and fuller quality, that gave an emotional pull and resonated throughout the Teatro Colón.
In the role of Riolobo, Camilo Mendoza had a booming baritone that easily rode over the orchestra. From the start, his animated movements on stage, in conjunction with his smooth and elegant phrasing, presented the audience with a vivid narrator that was easily understandable revealed plenty of details. In the role of Alvaro, Alexis Trejos brought a luxurious bass to the role.
Meanwhile, Hyalmar Mitrotti showcased a potent bass that easily rode over the immense orchestrations Catán wrote for the work. His duet with Florencia was his big vocal highlight, bringing out tenderness and warm colors in his middle voice.
In the pit, Riccardo Jaramillo led the orchestra with a solid emphasis on the strings. The lush melodies were played with a Pucciniesque freedom that provided solid contrast with strictly rhythmic passages. Such moments included the xylophone’s solo, which had a moment to shine and brought forth an erotic Latin flavor. But then there were those moments such as the cello’s solo where the performer used portamenti to emphasize the romantic elements in the score. If at times Jaramillo went overboard with the volume of the orchestra, he contrasted it with more subdued and lighter moments that allowed the soloists to shine.
While this performance was not always perfect, it was proof that Catán’s score needs to be heard and one that should get more attention around the world. For now, the Teatro Colón has a solid production that is worth seeing.