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Cinci Opera unveils Florencia en al Amazonas

 When is a contemporary opera not a contemporary opera?  When is new, totally unfamiliar music in a non-traditional operatic language, so comfortable that it is easily understood and readily appreciated?

This is not a riddle with a large cash prize attached. This is a description of Cincinnati Opera’s third production of this summer’s opera festival – Florencia en al Amazonas.
The opera is truly contemporary having its world premiere in 1996.  It is also the first main-stage opera in Cincinnati’s long history to be written and sung in Spanish.  

The work, by Mexican composer Daniel Catán, was created with much of the same artistic process used by the great opera composers of the 19th century.  Catán was driven to create a truly Latin opera. The language - Spanish. The locale – Brazil, South America.  

He selected a successful author, Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Márquez, to create a libretto which synthesized his philosophy of combining realism with an aura of magic.  The characters had to represent the very essence of this delicate bridge between natural and supernatural in music, song and action.

It took the vision and enthusiasm of Cincinnati Opera’s Impresario, Evans Mirageas, to bring this work to the Music Hall stage. Everything was complete innovation except the very comfortable, tuneful and rich music, the sheer excellence of the voices and the stage direction by Andrew Morton. These critical pieces of the operatic puzzle were done to near perfection.  

Catán’s music had hints of so many of the great composers - Puccini, Richard Strauss, Wagner. As Impresario Evans once stated, “If Puccini had lived in Brazil, he would have written this opera.” As an opera lover, I’m grateful that Puccini lived in Italy and also grateful that composer Catán lived in his worlds of Latin America, musical excellence and imaginative fantasy.  

The story deals with a journey on a small boat down the Amazon.  The passengers and crew interact in true operatic fashion.  They learn about each other, about themselves and about love and life.

The central character is a world famous diva, Florencia, sung magnificently by beautiful Alexandra Coku. In debut, she wore her magnificent gowns with queenly dignity and gave her arias true pathos and passion.  In each of the two acts, she had major arias which must be heard again.

The tale begins as she has returned from her world triumphs to give a recital in a remote town on the Amazon.  Her own motive is to find her lost love, the butterfly hunter, Cristóbal. Incognito, she deals with diva worship by her fellow passengers. The interpenetration of the personae connects each character. A young woman, Rosalba, is traveling to get an interview with Florencia to complete her book on the diva.  

An older couple is hoping that hearing Florencia sing will rekindle their love.  The ship’s captain loves the river, loves life and relishes each experience. In contrast, his handsome young nephew is disenchanted and depressed.

Hovering over them all is Riolobo, a mystical character, perhaps a river god.  He serves as the chorus to the play – a chorus with full powers to manipulate and salvage the humans under his care.

As each character develops they develop to lush music. All the while, their boat, an ingenious stage set by Robert Israel, morphs into their changing moods by actually spinning around to reveal each encounter.  

Like a Puccini opera, the arias, duets and even quartets reveal the inner person.  The young lovers Arcadio and Rosalba, Arturo Chacón-Cruz and Shana Blake Hill, find each other like Mimi and Rudolpho.  In their love duet, the surtitles revealed that they were bashing every aspect of love.  If you listened without knowing the words, it was a duet full of charm and awakening passion beautifully sung by the two handsome soon-to-be lovers.  

The other couple, married and middle-aged, resembled an operatic version of The Bickersons.  They fought shamelessly over everything until Paula, sung by powerful Emily Golden, thought she had lost husband Alvaro, Carlos Archuleta, to the river. They went from an older but not wiser version of La Bohème’s Musetta and Marcello to rediscovered ardor and abiding love.  

Dayton Opera was well represented by Blake Hill and Archuleta. He was our Escamillo in 2005 Carmen.  She was well remembered as the vibrant Musetta in the 2003 “Bohème” and 2005’s “Opera Goes to the Movies.”  

The character of the Captain, sung by Turkish basso Burak Bilgili, added a major dimension to the opera.  His voice, full of understanding and compassion, carried the subtleties of the action and the development of the story’s agon.  

Bilgili was the mortal counterpart of the handsome, physical river god, Riolobo. Baritone Nmon Ford brought all his strengths to this role.  Darting about like Ariel in The Tempest, he kept the confused humans on their track to individual salvation.  His voice, subtle but with contained power, had some of the most interesting musical lines.

There were also dancers.  Lithe, painted white, they were the river spirits. Punctuating the scenes, they surrounded the boat with their sinuousness.  Often
they intruded on a scene, often they emphasized the narrow bridge between reality and fantasy.

The opera orchestra was under the baton of Maestro Steven Mercurio.  He kept the oft-changing score flowing.  The singers were well supported by the orchestra but, at times, some vocal lines were lost to the sheer volume of the music..  

There were some empty seats in the normally full Music Hall.  The stigma of new opera deters some of the potential audience.  Cincinnati Opera did exactly the right thing in giving us this opportunity and new experience.  

To those who hesitate to take full advantage, I can easily make this pronouncement. We are at an epi-center of opera excellence. The joint forces of Cincinnati and Dayton Operas give us a multi-season chance to experience and enjoy the best of this magnificent art.  Please, don’t hesitate.  If Evans Mirageas or Tom Bankston present it – see it.  It will be wonderful, I fully guarantee that!

‘Momentum’ art exhibit at Link Gallery thru July 26

Link Gallery, a new art gallery in the Oregon Arts District and host to a group of Dayton’s most notable artists is presenting their new show, ‘momentum,’ an exhibit of metal sculpture by Michael Bashaw, mixed media paintings by Jeffrey Cortland Jones, and photographs by Joel Whitaker.  

Artist Talk and wine reception - Saturday, July 19, 5-8 pm

Dates:   Thru July 26 
Link Gallery Hours:   Wed, Thurs, Fri – 5-8pm    Sat – 2-8pm
By appointment: 937- 684-3505     937-224-7707

519 East Fifth Street   Oregon Arts District   Dayton, OH

Printmaker’s show thru July 27

The Kay Smith Memorial Printmakers Show at The Society of Painters and Sculptor’s 48 High Street Gallery, in Dayton, from July 13 through July 27th, 2008. A juried show of hand-pulled prints form the area’s finest printmakers. Thursdays and Friday 1 to 4 pm and on Saturday and Sundays 1 to 5 pm. (937) 435-0504.

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July 15, 2008
Volume 17, No. 29

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