Garcia Marquez-inspired opera comes to Washington

WASHINGTON, Ramon Sahmkow- Washington's stately Kennedy Center is staging its first opera in Spanish -- a dreamy tale of a jungle boat journey and lost love, all inspired by the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez.
The Washington National Opera is performing "Florencia in the Amazon," by the late Mexican composer Daniel Catan, starting Saturday, with five shows planned.

It will treat opera lovers to a taste of the late Nobel prize-winning Colombian novelist's "magical realism" -- a genre that blends fantasy and impossible events into normal, everyday life.
In this tale, a famous opera singer named Florencia Grimaldi -- played by the Grammy winning soprano Christine Goerke -- returns to her native Brazil, traveling incognito in a river boat to the Amazon port city of Manaus to give a big concert.
Heading deeper and deeper into the rain forest, Florencia and other passengers endure storms and an outbreak of cholera.
But the singer's real aim is to track down a long-lost lover, Cristobal, who years earlier ventured into the jungle to catch butterflies and was never heard from again.
Over the course of the journey along the mighty South American river, Florencia and the other travelers find "redemption of self through love. That is in so many of Marquez's works," said the opera's artistic director, Francesca Zambello.
The opera was first performed nearly 20 years ago at the Houston Grand Opera. Zambello worked on that production.
She said opera is the perfect art form for a visual representation of the work of Garcia Marquez, who died in April at the age of 87.
The Colombian gave his blessing to Catan's idea when he came up with it.
Although the opera is not based strictly on Garcia Marquez's writing it does take elements from "Love in the Time of Cholera," one of his most famous books, said Zambello.
"He loved the idea of an opera, because he understood that opera is like magic realism.
"It is not real that people sing, and opera, of course, has a great element of fantasy usually and non-realism, but realistic passions and emotions," Zambello told AFP, recalling conversations she had with the writer 20 years ago.
"For him, love is something dark and beautiful, and this piece expresses that," said Zambello, who has worked for 30 years in opera and theater in the United States and Europe.
- Passionate and poetic -
"Florencia in the Amazon" was the first Spanish language work commissioned by major US opera companies when it debuted in 1996.
After performances in cities including Los Angeles, Mexico City and Bogota, the opera is now coming to the US capital, a move Zambello said has artistic and social implications.
The singers, most of them English-speakers accustomed to the Italian and German used in classical opera, received special coaching in Spanish from a diction expert.
But Spanish is great for opera, because it mixes the fluidity of Italian with the abrupt full stops typical of German, Zambello said.
"Spanish is a very passionate language, and the libretto is very poetic, so everyone likes singing it," she said.
It is also important to hear Spanish at the Kennedy Center, because the language is so important in America, a country with 50 million Latinos, she added.
The opera opens the fall season at the elegant center for the performing arts along the banks of the Potomac River.
"Florencia in the Amazon" will also bring new technology to the Kennedy Center stage, in the form of the huge boat in which the story unfolds.
Modern special effects are also used to depict the steamy atmosphere and climate of the jungle and represent spirits, plus a mystical river creature that is also a character in the opera.

Sunday, September 21st 2014
Ramon Sahmkow

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