Florencia in the Amazons
Approximate Running Time: Two hours, ten minutes, with 1 intermission
In Spanish with English captions
Why Florenica again for the second time
in only seven years?
By Speight Jenkins
The history of contemporary opera in America, at least since maybe 1910, has been one splashy
production and no repeats. Yes, there are exceptions, Porgy and Bess being the most notable,
but Susanna, The Ballad of Baby Doe, Of Mice and Men, and recently Dead Man Walking have received
frequent productions. When Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles and Seattle co-commissioned Florencia
in the Amazons, I joined in because of the quality of the music. Reviews in both Houston and L.A.,
however, dismissed the piece as inconsequential; I didn't agree. I saw it in both houses and loved
it more the second time. Florencia has a lot of the late 19th century about it; its basis is clearly
the verismo of Puccini and Giordano. But unlike most attempts since World War II to compose in this
idiom Mexican composer Daniel Catán turned out fresh, inspired music with a twist. Hearing Florencia
in a piano rehearsal really sounds a lot like the Italian verismo composers; his use of South
American instruments makes the orchestral performance a new adventure.
Francesca Zambello, working with set designer Robert Israel, captured the flavor of both South
America and the magical realism that pervades Florencia. As a production, it did a tremendous
amount to sell the opera. I was very happy when the audience and the critics in Seattle embraced
Florencia enthusiastically. It started out without great ticket sales and sold out toward the end
of the run. It’s safe to say that in its first run in Seattle, with Sheri Greenawald as an inspired
Florencia, the opera enjoyed its biggest success up to that time.
But why a second time, and only seven years later? The reason simply is that I have received more
audience requests to bring back Florencia by letter, by chance encounters in the theater, and in my
after-opera sessions than for any other opera. At first I thought it was just a fluke; as the months
and years went on, the requests never stopped. Women and men of all ages asked when they were going
to see Florencia again. Houston Grand Opera revived the opera a few years ago and recorded it. (The
recording is on sale and is excellent.) The second time around the response in Houston resembled
that in Seattle.
Consequently, as soon as the compulsory seven-year period passed (nothing except the Ring is ever
repeated here short of seven years), I was delighted to schedule the opera. The cast is completely
new, highlighting the return of two singers too long absent from Seattle: Nancy Gustafson, who has
sung a huge variety of repertory all over the world since she was last here, as Antonia, in Les
contes d'Hoffmann in 1990, and Nathan Gunn, one of the hottest lyric baritones in the world, last
here in The Magic Flute, in 2000. (Yes, we will see Mr. Gunn shirtless, but not because it's the
thing to do; Riolobo in this production does not wear a shirt for a good bit of the time.) Larry
Brownlee, returning after a score of European triumphs, Luretta Bybee, and three newcomers, Frances
Lucey, D'Arcy Bleiker, and Luiz-Ottavio Faria (a Brazilian by birth), complete the cast. Vjekoslav
Sutej, who led the world premiere and our first performances, returns again to conduct the work.
In these parlous economic times it’s a gamble. But I have to believe that when so many have asked me
to bring back this work, a lot of people will come to see it. I believe in Florencia. I think it's a
moving, wonderfully melodic and fascinating work. I think you will enjoy it again, or discover it as
a major addition to the world repertory of opera.