by Kelley Rourke
“El Dorado” (“the golden one”) is a term associated with a legendary city of gold that has lured many an explorer into the jungle. It is also the name of the steamship on which the action of Florencia in the Amazon takes place. The passengers aboard the El Dorado are making the journey to an opera house in the heart of the jungle, where they imagine that an encounter with the legendary diva Florencia Grimaldi will change their lives. What they fail to realize is that the diva is already among them. Over the course of the voyage, one by one, they will come to recognize her; more importantly, they will come to recognize that another person, no matter how great and gifted, cannot give them what they are seeking.
Florencia has her own reasons for boarding the El Dorado. Years ago, she made a journey out of the jungle, away from the man she loved, in pursuit of fame and fortune. Drawn back by the memory of the love that once transformed her, she hopes to reverse the journey and return to her Cristóbal. The words of the ship’s Captain—a man who describes himself as not merely satisfied, but happy—will prove prophetic: “There is no coming and going. Things always move forward. In life, there is no going back. No one step is ever the same. No turn is ever a return.”
The ever-evolving natural world is an important presence in the score and in this production. By turns luminous and threatening, inviting and savage, the jungle and its inhabitants serve as both guide and obstacle for each passenger’s journey.
The libretto for Florencia in the Amazon was inspired by the work of Colombian writer Gabriel García Márquez, who served as an important mentor to librettist Marcela Fuentes-Berain. Daniel Catán was the first Mexican composer to have an opera premiere in the United States (Rappacini’s Daughter, 1994). Florencia in the Amazon premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 1996, to great acclaim, and has gone on to be produced by companies across the United States, in Mexico, and abroad.
—Kelley Rourke is the dramaturg of Washington National Opera