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New York’s Met stages Spanish opera for first time in nearly a century

By AFP - Nov 17,2023 - Last updated at Nov 17,2023

Mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera and baritone Michael Chioldi, performing as the feuding couple Paula and Alvaro, take part in a dress rehearsal of ‘Florencia en el Amazonas’, sung in Spanish, at the Met Opera in New York on Monday (AFP photo)

NEW YORK — For the first time in nearly a century, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City will stage a performance in Spanish on Thursday, as the company works to expand its appeal to wider audiences.

“Florencia en el Amazonas” is a magical realist telling of an opera diva’s journey to South America to find her long lost lover, a butterfly hunter who disappeared in the jungle.

The protagonist Florencia Grimaldi — played by soprano Aylin Perez, the daughter of Mexican immigrants — boards a steamboat in the early 20th century en route to Manaus, home of the legendary opera in the heart of Brazil’s Amazon.

“It’s wonderful to have a new work that people don’t know as well,” said director Mary Zimmerman of the opera that premiered in 1996 in Houston.

In an interview with AFP, Zimmerman said that opera-goers tend to prioritise the classics: “Opera loves its traditions.”

But even if “people like that to visit the old friend”, she said, “they should make new friends too.”

The opera composed by Mexico’s Daniel Catan, his third, was commissioned by the Houston Grand Opera.

Its libretto is by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, who also is Mexican, and studied with the beloved pioneer of magical realism, Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

The opera is relatively new but has elements of romanticism, Zimmerman said.

“It’s melodic, it’s lush, it sounds like Puccini,” she said.

The opera also centers on the eternal dilemma of career versus love, with three types of women setting sail on the “El Dorado” ship, amid a set of abundant vegetation and rich fauna.

Along with the diva who has achieved fame but sacrificed love, there is Rosalba, a journalist writing a biography of the opera star and who does not want love to divert her path, and a woman embroiled in a spat with her lover.

But a violent storm upends the ship — and with it the once staunch principles of its passengers.

‘Dream come true’ 


Latinos are well represented among the cast: Along with the star Perez, Gabriella Reyes, the daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, plays Rosalba.

Spanish mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera and Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang also have roles, while Riccardo Hernandez, who was born in Cuba and raised in Buenos Aires, designed the sets.

“Everyone feels the warmth of Latin America,” says Reyes, who as a student chose an aria from “Florencia” for her graduation exam.

“The orchestra had to order the scores because they didn’t already have them,” she says with amusement.

“But it’s thanks to this aria, and this piece, that I have my career,” she told AFP.

Reyes says it’s the second time she’s played Rosalba, but it’s still “a dream come true”.

“Singing with Latinos in Spanish comes from my soul in a different way than when I sing in Italian,” she says.


‘Urgent and profound’ 


“Florencia” is the third opera in Spanish that the Met has produced over its long and storied history.

In 1926, the Met staged “La vida breve” by Manuel de Falla, 10 years after it produced “Goyescas”, from the Spanish composer Enrique Granados.

Catan’s opera is one of several new features at the Met, which for several years has been aiming to reach younger, more diverse audiences.

It kicked off its season with “Dead Man Walking”, an operatic adaptation of the acclaimed book by the nun Helen Prejean about her relationship with a death row inmate whose execution she witnessed.

And earlier this month was the Met premiere of “The Life and Times of Malcolm X”, a mesmerising musical biography of the civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1965.

These operas “deserve to stand alongside the masterpieces of centuries past”, said the Met’s director, Peter Gelb.

“They have urgent and profound things to say to us about the world we live in today.”


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