Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas is the third work in Spanish to be carried out on the Metropolitan Opera within the firm’s historical past. It must really feel like the start of one thing new. Certainly, the eagerness of Thursday evening’s viewers was palpable, with a rallying voice crying “Viva la ópera en español!” moments earlier than Yannick Nézet-Séguin introduced down his baton. Nonetheless, whereas Florencia could be new to the Met—and whereas “la ópera en español” is definitely an thrilling prospect—it’s also a 27 yr outdated opera, written to sound a lot, a lot older. In its Met premier, neither a proficient solid nor some lovely musical moments have been sufficient to make Florencia really feel new or very important.
The Florencia program word leads with an acknowledgement that “important responses” to Catán’s opera “typically examine the opera to the music of one other composer.” I hardly need to harp on this well-worn theme, however I additionally can’t deny that Florencia resembles a research in Puccini pastiche—or a brand new tackle WQXR’s Opera Quiz, the place followers may compete to determine the opera’s many musical and textual references to the best hits of the operatic canon. Referentiality is all effectively and good, however the comparisons invited by Catán’s music in the end do no favors to Marcela Fuentes-Berain’s libretto, which is frustratingly unsubtle and banal.
Take, for instance, the titular diva Florencia Grimaldi’s first act aria. Florencia is on a riverboat down the Amazon, touring incognito in quest of her misplaced lover, Cristobal, who woke up her virtually magical musical expertise years in the past. Alone on the deck of the El Dorado, Florencia describes her need to return to a time earlier than she grew to become La Grimaldi and to reconcile the lover she was then with the artist she is now. In its contemplative construct to a hovering heart-song, Florencia’s aria is musically paying homage to Minnie’s act one aria in La Fanciulla del West. Minnie’s textual content, too, could possibly be termed banal: she describes her dad and mom’ marriage, how she used to see them taking part in footsie underneath the desk whereas they performed playing cards. However the simplicity of Minnie’s phrases is an intentional distinction to the grand sweep of Puccini’s music. Collectively, phrases and music mix to convey the concept beneath Minnie’s easy, country-girl have an effect on lies an virtually unbearably huge emotionality that should burst out in track.
Florencia’s aria, too, is explosively emotional, however her textual content is banal in one other approach solely: Florencia merely states that she has cherished, that she longs to search out her love once more, that she can’t be wholly herself till she does so. Her phrases and her music make the identical assertion. Collectively, they convey nothing greater than the info—far lower than the sum of their elements.
This aria is a waste of a very good Puccini pastiche; on Thursday, it was additionally a waste of the very good Ailyn Pérez. Pérez’s voice could not have been the most important, but it surely had a remarkably dense, supple high quality—columnar, virtually. If Catán’s orchestration, as this system word claims, seeks to breed the ambient sounds of the Amazon, Pérez’s voice was like a river snake, rippling elegantly by the waters. As Florencia, Pérez shone with a sincerity and depth of feeling that made the libretto’s banality all of the extra irritating. I wished Pérez’s Florencia to have her Minnie second—or her Mimi second, or her Tosca second—however that alchemy of music-drama simply isn’t in Florencia, regardless of the libretto’s repeated insistence that the opera shall be an area of transformation.
Certainly, Fuentes-Berain’s libretto was inert in ways in which not even an brisk solid of singers may fight. The opening scene’s glut of exposition, for instance, was delivered commandingly by Mattia Olivieri as Robiolo (you’d by no means guess it was his Met debut), however neither his muscular tone nor assured stage presence may disguise Robiolo’s inelegance as a story machine: a semi-magical narrator who exists to, within the very first scene, inform the viewers all of the related info concerning the different characters’ lives, conflicts, and needs.
These info comprise the whole lot of what these characters themselves will articulate over the course of the opera, so one wonders why they’re imparted instantly after the curtain rises. Robiolo tells us, for instance, that the Captain’s nephew Arcadio is dissatisfied together with his life on the river. Not ten minutes later, Arcadio, sung with infectious power (if not solely sufficient quantity) by Mario Chang, comes on stage and pronounces that he’s dissatisfied together with his life on the river. As Arcadio’s love curiosity and Florencia’s would-be biographer Rosalba, Gabriella Reyes was charmingly passionate, with a stunning, unfurling high quality to the highest of her voice.
Arcadio and Rosalba have two character traits every: he desires to be a pilot, she’s writing a ebook, and so they’re undecided whether or not to succumb to the love they really feel for each other. Because the quarreling married couple Paula and Alvaro, Nancy Fabiola Herrera and Michael Chioldi had even much less to do, besides they did it effectively, bringing comedian timing to their spats and emotional sincerity to their reconciliation.
That reconciliation, nonetheless, was marred by the inertness—or extra precisely, the sameness—of the rating itself. The music is gorgeous, textural, swelling to a crescendo earlier than ebbing again to its lovely texture. After which it does that once more. And once more. Within the pit, the superhumanly constant Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the Met orchestra gave all that stunning texture a lushness and a stability regardless of the dearth of pleasure.
The same consistency with out drama characterised Mary Zimmerman’s staging. As has typically been the case with Zimmerman, Florencia was introduced in a method that might maybe be termed “gestural realist”—a largely naked stage, with some light-weight, modular set items that floor the manufacturing within the info of the libretto. Within the case of Florencia, that naked stage was the river, cradled on both aspect by curving banks of vegetation-green LED screens that evoked a collaboration between the sculptor Richard Serra and a Home windows screensaver. The realist set items, wheeled on and off, have been curved sections of deck railing and people massive pipes you see on boat decks in outdated films.
That is gestural realism: the staging is abstracted considerably, however the deck pipes and railings inform us that the setting is, the truth is, solely literal. I’m certainly not against realist productions, however Zimmerman’s staging struck me as frustratingly noncommittal, hedging its bets with a stylized aesthetic that was nonetheless painstakingly non-threatening and virtually solely unsurprising.
Nearly the one staging selection that appeared able to shocking the viewers was its least realist component: the dancers who animated, by some Lion King-esque puppetry and choreography, the wildlife of the Amazon. Swishing as faculties of fish throughout the stage in piranha headdresses and piranha panniers over blood-red ball robes, these dancers appeared like transient flashes from one other manufacturing—one with just a bit extra creativeness.
At its finest, non-realist theater is essentially considerably semiotic; the objects and pictures onstage don’t symbolize the info of the setting or the libretto, so, ideally, they current one thing else concerning the work as an alternative, one thing beneath the extent of the literal. Zimmerman’s frivolously abstracted minimalist realism has the advantage of stylishness—a advantage to not be discounted—however her Florencia lacked the layers of that means that profitable non-realist theater can present.
An absence of semiotic depth isn’t inherently an issue. Usually, a primarily trendy manufacturing has the good thing about getting out of its personal approach and enabling a piece to talk for itself. The issue with Florencia, nonetheless, is that regardless of the press supplies’ repeated invocation of the time period “magical realism,” it itself suffers from a scarcity of layered or implicit that means. At instances, it appeared as if neither the work nor the director had a lot to say in any respect.
Tellingly, this lacking standpoint was most noticeable in moments the place the opera claimed to plumb some Amazonian depth: moments the place Florencia promised rupture, transformation, even apocalypse. The storm sequence that maroons the riverboat, for instance, contains within the libretto a plea to the gods that they not finish the world—however the rating supplies nothing extra catastrophic than some timpani rolls, and the staging nothing extra transformative than a rain of confetti and the deck railings tipped over on their sides.
No disaster, it appeared, was sufficient to interrupt the graceful, harmonious consistency of Florencia’s rating and staging—to dredge its placid depths and pull something of actual that means to the floor. As an alternative, its naked stage was for essentially the most half simply that: a naked stage, full of gorgeous music, signifying nothing.
Pictures: Ken Howard/Metopera