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.