The Amazon comes to life Friday in IU Opera’s opening production of “Florencia en el Amazonas.”
Written by Mexican composer Daniel Catán, the opera chronicles a steamboat’s journey down the Amazon River to an opera house in Manaus, Brazil, and the relationships between its passengers.
The opera is composed entirely in Spanish, a deviation from the main opera languages of Italian, French and German.
Kaitlyn Johnson, who sings the title role of Florencia Grimaldi in Friday’s cast, said learning those languages is required as part of the opera department curriculum.
Her character is an aging opera singer with a lifetime of achievements returning to Manaus in search of her lover, Cristóbal.
“Like all operas, at the root it’s about love, but it’s also about returning home and what that means,” Johnson said. “Florencia looks at the career she’s had and wonders if it was worth it.”
She said she draws inspiration for how she portrays Florencia on stage from some of the voice teachers at the Jacobs School of Music and how they manage to communicate a stage presence even in their daily lives. Johnson said the atmosphere around professors who have had great careers is something she tries to emulate.
Johnson stressed the significance of an opera being produced in Spanish at IU and how it can help opera gain momentum globally because of the public’s familiarity with the language. Johnson, a second-year graduate student who is fluent in Spanish, said high exposure to the language in the United States makes the opera more approachable, especially for those who have never seen an opera before.
This sentiment was echoed by Andres Acosta, a second-year graduate student who sings the part of Arcadio. Acosta, who is Cuban, said he sees opera moving toward more portrayals of Latin American culture in the future.
“I’ve heard a lot of people at the school talking about how they’re curious to go see just how much Spanish they can pick up on because they’re studying it in their classes,” Acosta said, “I think that’s exciting because it gives Hispanic people like me comfort in knowing our culture is still living within the U.S.”
The chorus, which sings the background music, appears on stage in the form of animals and the personified landscape, which Acosta said is unique to this production.
Both he and Johnson attribute this innovation to stage director Candace Evans, who Johnson said has worked hard to give the river, rain forest and steamboat their own personalities.
The style of narrative employed by Catán is known as magical realism, popularized by Colombian author Gabriel García-Márquez.
Julian Morris, who sings the part of Alvaro, said the opera is marked by a negotiation of belief and mystery, which he said explains why the plot seems nonexistent at certain points and why the scenery is distinct from classic operas from Europe.
Morris compared the production to 19th-century Italian opera composer Giacomo Puccini writing the music for a blockbuster film today. He said in some ways, the sounds could be more familiar to the ears of present-day listeners than Mozart.
Tabitha Burchett, who sings the part of Rosalba, said when she discusses the show, she prefers to talk about the three love stories taking place. She said there is a relationship for everyone to relate to.
“You have Florencia and Cristóbal. You have the young lovers of Arcadio and Rosalba, and then you’ve got the old bickering couple, Paula and Alvaro,” Burchett said. “It’s really powerful how Catán paralleled those stories.”
The opera is relatively short in length, which Courtney Jameson said is a plus for newcomers to opera, who may not want to commit an entire evening to attending the show.
Jameson, who sings the part of Paula, said it is through-composed, meaning the music is continuous and non-repetitive.
“It really makes you look back on yourself,” Jameson said. “It holds the mirror up in different ways because of the characters and the relationships that they have, and that’s what good art does.”
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