Madison Opera’s Must-See—MUST HEAR—“Florencia”

The final dress rehearsal of Catan’s mystical/lyrical work enchants and moves us


I have looked forward to seeing and hearing Daniel Catan’s Florencia en el Amazonas for a year now…and when I discovered that work and a prior commitment would prevent that this weekend, it was a real disappointment. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might get to observe the final dress rehearsal of Madison Opera’s final offering this season, but I did. But please note: As this was a working rehearsal, this blog post is not a review in any sense. However, the experience so met—and in some ways exceeded—my expectations, that I wanted to share this and urge my readers to get to the Overture Center this Friday at 8 p.m. or Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Catan’s work, based on writings of Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Love in the Time of Cholera, e.g.) was premiered in 1996. The fact that it didn’t sound anything like a late 20th-century composition was no surprise; it has been described as a cross between Puccini and Debussy. The former reference is clearly reflected in the lyricism of the vocal writing: This is music that truly sings. The latter is a result of the marvelously evocative orchestrations that glimmer and burble almost as its own character…which in a way the Amazon river is.

The story centers on a diva (sung by Elizabeth Caballero, who is portraying Florencia in her third production), who has reigned over the world’s opera stages for about 20 years. She has remained a mysterious and reclusive personage offstage (in fact, she is on board a boat headed for her hometown in Brazil where she is to perform—and no one realizes who she is until late in the opera). The catalyst of her artistry was a great love affair; her lover was dedicated to finding the world’s rarest butterfly in the Amazon forest, but she eschewed his invitation to join him in order to pursue her career. Caballero is pictured above, with the Kanopy Dancers, courtesy of James Gill Photography.

The other passengers the Captain (Ashraf Sewailam, the only singer making his Madison Opera debut), the mystical Riolobo (Nmon Ford), Rosalba (Rachel Sterrenberg, who has been trying to write a biography of Florencia for two years—without having interviewed her yet), a middle-aged couple in marital crisis, Paula and Alvaro (Adriana Zabala and Levi Hernandez), and the captain’s stuck-in-a-rut nephew (he longs to be a captain himself), Arcadio, sung by Mackenzie Whitney.

There’s a chorus, and six dancers who add color and movement throughout much of the work, with choreography by Lisa Thurrell. The effective set and props come from Arizona Opera, and the seductive lighting is courtesy of Marcus Dilliard. All of it comes under the directorial hand of Kristine McIntyre, who has been here before, most notably to direct Dead Man Walking.

Of course, John DeMain leads the Madison Symphony through this entrancing score.

Let’s put it this way: even having experienced dress rehearsal, if I were available this weekend, I’d be aboard the El Dorado yet again for another trip down the Amazon.


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