For the first time in almost a century, the Metropolitan Opera in New York is offering a work in Spanish starting Thursday, the institution wanting to diversify its audience in a city where a third of the population is of Hispanic and Latino origin. -American.
Florencia en el Amazonas is the operatic tale of a South American diva in search of the man she loves, a butterfly hunter who goes missing in the Amazon jungle. The character of Florencia Grimaldi - played by soprano singer Aylin Perez, daughter of Mexican immigrants in the United States - embarks at the beginning of the 20th century on a steamboat which sets sail for Manaus, a Brazilian city which is home to a legendary opera in heart of the Amazon. “It is wonderful to present a new work that the public does not know,” rejoices Mary Zimmerman, the director of this opera created and staged for the first time in 1996 in Houston, Texas, the fourth megacity in the United States where Spanish is king.
In an interview with AFP on the sidelines of Florencia's dress rehearsal, Mary Zimmerman acknowledges that opera lovers prefer the classics and "traditions". But even if “people like to see their old friends (...) they must be able to make new ones,” jokes the American artist. Florencia en el Amazonas was composed by Mexican Daniel Catan for the Houston Grand Opera, with a libretto by his compatriot Marcela Fuentes-Berain, disciple of the Colombian literary giant Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1927-2014). Although contemporary, the work is classical in style and is inspired by the masterpiece Love in the Time of Cholera, winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature and representative of the artistic movement of “magical realism”, according to Mary Zimmerman.
“It’s melodic, it sounds like Puccini,” she says. The story also narrates the classic dilemma between love and professional success, with three types of women who find themselves on the steamboat El Dorado as it sails through lush flora and fauna. On stage, Hispanic and Latin American artists are well represented, reflecting a third of the 8.5 million inhabitants of the New York megalopolis. In addition to star soprano Aylin Perez, Gabriella Reyes, daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, plays Florencia's rival, Rosalba.
The Spanish mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera and the Guatemalan tenor Mario Chang play and sing, while we owe the sets and the stage to Riccardo Hernandez, born in Cuba and who grew up in Buenos Aires. “Everyone feels the warmth of Latin America,” says Gabriella Reyes, who has the feeling of “making her dream come true” by playing Rosalba for the second time. “Singing in Spanish with Latin Americans comes from my soul and it’s very different than when I sing in Italian,” confides the artist.
Florencia en el Amazonas is the third Spanish-language opera produced by the Met Opera in a century. In 1926, La vida breve by Manuel de Falla was performed, ten years after the New York Opera had produced Goyescas by the Spanish composer Enrique Granados, in 1916. The choice to put the work of Danel Catan on the bill is part of a context of opening the Met Opera to a younger and more diverse audience.
In September, the opera Dead Man Walking was performed, after the best-selling book of the same name and the Oscar-winning film. This moral and emotional plea against the death penalty is drawn from the life of Catholic abolitionist nun Helen Prejean and her spiritual relationship with a man executed in the United States in 1984. And in November, X: The Life and Times of Malcolm X, the life of the black icon of the civil rights movement assassinated in 1965 is revisited by the Met Opera in an Afrofuturist style revival.
For its director Peter Gelb, these contemporary operas “have their rightful place alongside the masterpieces of past centuries”, because “they have deep and urgent things to tell us about the world in which we live”.