Florencia en el Amazonas

National Opera Association Award: 2nd Place in Category


photos courtesy of Ken Howard

Christopher Allen
Cast: J. Schuler, A. René, Arnold/Jacobs, Felty/Mecher, C. Jackson, Johnson/Galka, K. Buttermann
Production: La Meira (Choreography), A. Licout (Scenery), A. MacDonald (Clothes), J. Naftal (Lighting), P. Angle (Projections), D. Steele (Hair/Make-up)

Production Concept: 
This production does not take a literal approach, with a steamship onstage. It is a psychological and metaphysical journey through the soul of Florencia herself. It begins with the diva taking her curtain call after a performance of Puccini’s Tosca at La Scala; we view the event from backstage of the theater looking out into the auditorium. Riolobo makes an unanticipated entrance to present her with a bouquet of flowers, embedded within is a rare flower from the Amazon, which triggers a memory voyage for Florencia. The theater then transforms into a container for her voyage: the stage becomes the “boat” the walls of the theater become surfaces for projected images of the Amazon and we see Florencia grapple with her emotional turmoil about her career and her former love in the Amazon. Like many a Puccinian heroine, she eventually finds peace and transfiguration in death, where she finally re-unites with her lost love, Cristobal.

“Scintillating music, fine singing and an outstanding orchestral accompaniment in the current production of Florencia en el Amazonas (Florence in the Amazon), composed in 1995 by the late Mexican-born American composer Daniel Catán. Produced and performed by the Fletcher Opera Institute of UNCSA and directed by the recently appointed artistic director of the Fletcher Opera Institute, Nic Muni. The ambiguity of action and unclear ending of the love story leave much to the discretion and creativity of the director, whose addition of half a dozen heroines from famous operas, Florencia’s alter-egos in magnificent costumes (designed by Amy MacDonald), add a layer of intrigue, even if their presence is not instrumental to the plot. Exciting lighting by student lighting designer, Joseph Naftal, and steamy projections of the wild banks of the Amazon while the boat chugs upstream (Patrick Angle), did much to situate and enliven the drama.”
Peter Perret, CVNC

“The UNC School of the Arts’ design and lighting department has outdone itself by creating a journey on the Amazon River into the interior of Brazil to the city of Manaus. The scenery is not only represented by ever­ changing projections of light that suggest trees, vines and flowers and create a sense of movement…the setting would be a character in its own right, and it is matched by the talented cast from UNCSA’s Fletcher Opera Institute, with stage direction by Nicholas Muni, the artistic director; and the UNCSA Symphony, conducted by Christopher Allen, a guest artist. The show is shot through with symbolism and metaphor: butterflies, the search for love, the fear of it, the desire for freedom, journeys both physical and spiritual. It is a powerful story, exquisitely told, leaving us to answer for ourselves the question of whether love traps us or is the only thing that can truly set us free.”
– Lynn Felder, Winston Salem Journal

Conductor: William Lumpkin
Cast: Hollis/King, Bray/Strommer, Galka/Womble, Hickma/Zuluaga, Taylor/von Heyningen, Camargo/Rabin, Hutchinson/Kim
Production: C. Nelson (Scenery), K. Schondek (clothes), B. Bagwell (lighting), M. Haber (Projections)

“It was like a most beautiful dream. Florencia en el Amazonas, with music by Daniel Catán and libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain “the most beautiful opera in the last 50 years.”

The production, in the capable hands of veteran director Nic Muni, seems to highlight the Puccini comparison. The similarity of Catán’s heroine Florencia Grimaldi to Floria Tosca may be coincidence, but Muni chose to build a fascinating live backdrop of actors as various Puccini heroines—Turandot, Butterfly, Manon, Suor Angelica, Mimi and Minnie—who, dressed in their recognizable all-white costumes, accompany the celebrated diva on her journey. The curtains open with Grimaldi dressed in bright-red Tosca garb, center stage with her back to us, arms outstretched to receive the adoration of her fans. We then encounter the “strange creature” Riolobo, as the program describes him, who hands her a bouquet of white roses in which she finds an unusual flower native to her Amazon homeland. Immediately noticeable is Riolobo’s blue tribal face paint, above his tails and white tie: we have entered the dream, and are now within an operatic journey of magical realism. But the music changes and suddenly Riolobo is cavorting around the stage of La Scala doing a tribal dance, still with brightly painted face. The lighting changes too and the screen, which reflected the view from La Scala’s stage, suddenly modulates to a brilliant Amazonian blue. With a fly-in platform from above, we complete the picture, with a captain at the ship’s wheel as the chorus disappears and the main characters come onstage ready to board. The blue morphs to undulating water and we are on our way. Brilliant colors and images both static and moving continue throughout to fill in the thought processes of the characters; the scrims for the images projection are also able to split or be moved together to cover a larger space.

The libretto is not “action-oriented,” so Muni worked very hard with the singers, “digging deep” to find that true action. It is a challenge with young singers, but they rose to it; the maturity was at an extraordinary level, for subjects big and personal.

The attention to visual detail in this production is stunning. One striking effect came in the beginning of the second act after the ship had been through the storm; the curtain raises with Grimaldi again center stage as she is being surrounded by her Puccini-heroine companions, each keeping distance and carrying lit orbs. It was beautiful, and was the last we saw of these characters, who had remained a constant up to this point. As in many of the effects, there is no exact explanation, and I believe that was Muni’s intention.”
Gigi Velasco, The Boston Intelligencer


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