On Saturday night I found myself front row at the LA Opera’s production of Florencia en el Amazonas, the contemporary Spanish-language opera by Daniel Catán, composer of international smash-hit Il Postino. Based loosely on the writings of Gabriel García Marquez, the opera follows the boat El Dorado as it sails up the Amazon River towards Manaus, in the heart of the jungle, for the reopening of the Manaus Opera House, officiated by renowned soprano Florencia Grimaldi. Unbeknownst to her fellow passengers, Grimaldi boards the ship, and sings solo of her former lover, lost forever to the jungle, as various other loves unfold around her.
Steeped in Marquez’s signature magical realism, the plot is unlike that of any other opera I have seen. At each turn it is literally and figuratively stormy–for each resolution, there is a loose end. For the El Dorado’s passengers, the future is as ambiguous as the ever-shifting hue of the sky, which lit up with projections of swaying banana leaves, vine-laden trees, storm clouds, and colored bursts of sunset.
The music is highly accessible, even Puccini-esque. Those performers who were more reserved in the first act truly flowered in the second. It was also a rare pleasure to see so many operatic voices sing in their native tongue, as few Spanish operas are often performed.
Florencia en el Amazonas will run at the LA Opera through December 20.