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Daniel Catán’s (1949-2011) “Florencia en el Amazonas” is
an opera that is somewhat reminiscent of the works of
Giacomo Puccini (1858-1924) in that it has similar veristic
sensibilities and is largely driven by a sense of ardor,
which is redolent of that composer. Catán owes much to
Puccini, both tonally and in his handling of the orchestral forces.
Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and mid 20th Century film
composers also come to mind while listening to
“Florencia en el Amazonas,” because of the masterful
orchestral writing.

What distinguishes this opera from those of Puccini is the
inherent sense of symbolism. Ostensibly, the story is about
the operatic diva, Florencia Grimaldi, who hasn’t been in
her native South America for 20 years, and the action takes
place on a river boat on the Amazon River. She is traveling
incognito to an opera house located in the heart of the
Amazon jungle. There are also other passengers on the
boat as well, each with their own agendas. The symbolism
of the Amazon River provides the setting for this opera’s
main themes of self-discovery, love and loss, which each
character must experience in their own fashion.

Florencia is also in search of her long-lost lover, Cristóbal,
a butterfly hunter. By the end of the opera, we’re unsure
if she has found him, but she sings a passionate
“Liebestod-like” aria to him. Apparently, the main message
of this work is that love is the force that gives meaning to
life and death. It sounds a bit more metaphysical than
Puccini, wouldn’t you say?

This fine Houston Grand Opera performance was recorded
live, presumably during 2001 and 2002. This same opera
company gave the world premiere performance of
“Florencia en el Amazonas,” during 1996. The seven
singers on this recording performed admirably, and
conductor Patrick Summers led a spirited and passionate
performance, which was well recorded by the sound engineers.

At a running time of approximately 99 minutes, this
attractive opera is probably a good introduction to
Catán’s music. It’s definitely one of the most significant
operas written by a Mexican composer.