Act IThe steamboat El Dorado is sailing down the Amazon in the early 1900s. The passengers are travelling to hear the legendary but intensely private opera singer Florencia Grimaldi sing at the reopening of the theatre in Manaus. Riolobo, a mystical character who can assume many forms introduces the embarking passengers: Paula and Alvaro, a middle-aged couple attempting to rekindle their marriage; Rosalba, a journalist researching a biography on Grimaldi; and Florencia herself, travelling alone and incognito, harboring a burning desire to find her long-lost lover Cristóbal, a butterfly-hunter, whose love unlocked her staggering powers of musical expression.
Once en route, Rosalba accidentally drops her research notes overboard. The Captain's nephew, Arcadio manages to rescue them, and the pair becomes aware of a strong mutual attraction. The evening concludes as Paula and Alvaro's attempt at a romantic dinner dissolves into a bitter quarrel. Initially unaware of her identity, the Captain tells Florencia of the fate of Cristóbal, who disappeared without trace in the jungle, thus dashing her dearest ambition. As a heated card game brings out the contrasting sexual and hostile tensions between Rosalba and Arcadio, and Paula and Alvaro, a violent storm brews outside. In saving the ship from being crushed, Alvaro is swept overboard; the Captain is knocked unconscious and despite Arcadio's efforts at the helm, the ship runs aground.
Act IIPaula mourns the loss of Alvaro, realizing that it was pride and not lack of love that stood between them. Riolobo appears again mysteriously to return Alvaro to the ship, claiming that Paula's laments saved him from death. Rosalba, distraught that her notebook has been ruined in the storm, talks to the incognito Florencia about her research. During the ensuing discussion on Grimaldi, Florencia declares passionately that Grimaldi's gift was a result of her love for Cristóbal. Rosalba realizs that she is talking to her heroine and, hearing her story, decides her own love for Arcadio shouldn't be suppressed.
A relevant programme note is available on the Florencia en el Amazonas (Orchestral Suite) page.
[Catán's] FLORENCIA has found favor with other companies than HGO, but I fear it is still underestimated. Its richly lyrical score echoes previous strains of neo-Romanticism, but establishes its own determined voice as well.
Recordings should make this Spanish-language opera a standard the world over.
The music glistens like sun on the river; it is graceful and ravishing. And, in case you haven't figured it out, it's absolutely tonal...in the face of such exquisite music, music that drinks the listener in sensually...it flows and flows, uninterrupted...I'm enchanted. This is a gorgeous, fascinating, familiar-yet-new experience, and I recommend it to everyone.
The Spanish-language libretto tells how five people find meaning, fulfillment and transcendence during a boat trip down the Amazon. Catán's luxuriantly colorful score blends Puccini, Ravel and a whiff of Villa-Lobos, and gives the singers lots of opportunities for ripe, soaring melodies.