Saturday evening, November 9, will mark an important milestone in the long history of Pittsburgh Opera, when the curtain goes up on Florencia en el Amazonas, the first-ever Spanish-language opera to be produced by the company. With music by Mexican composer Daniel Catán (1949-2011), set to a libretto by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, one of his pupils, the work is based on Gabriel García Márquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and was jointly commissioned by Houston Grand Opera, Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera. The world premiere was given by the Houston company on October 25, 1996. It was then staged in Los Angeles and Seattle, and has since been heard at Cincinnati Opera, Opera Colorado, Utah Opera, Washington National Opera, Nashville Opera, Arizona Opera, New York City Opera and elsewhere.
Christopher Hahn, General Director of Pittsburgh Opera, recently took the time to share a few thoughts on how the work hit his radar, what he enjoys about it, and what he’s hoping Pittsburgh audiences will take away from the performances.
“I became familiar with this piece when I was with the Los Angeles Opera in the late 90s, when it was first composed,” Mr. Hahn said. “I got to know the composer, Daniel Catán, very
well, and through the process of producing it for the Los Angeles Opera and becoming familiar with his work, I became entranced with the piece and saw first-hand the enormously powerful effect it had on audiences. The subject matter is alluring and fascinating and enigmatic and intriguing, and as soon as people connect Gabriel García Márquez and his writing to the story they become intrigued all over again. Also, we are always looking to present something with a very powerful story, and this has one. The story is sweeping and epic, but at the same time is an extraordinary character study, so we get to know and love the characters in the journey down the river. The combination of that with this wonderful music is what made it, for me, a stand-out piece.
“The composition, musical landscape, the sounds – the wonderfully rich tonal palette that Daniel Catán employed connects to the characters, the people in the piece, but also the environment – there is a sense of humanity gliding toward something, on a quest for something, down this elemental, great, mighty river, passing by societies and villages. The combination makes it both timeless and fascinating on a personal level.
“In Pittsburgh, the concept of an opera in Spanish will be new. The composer was heavily influenced by a whole range of fantastic composers, including Puccini, who we all love and revere. I believe an audience listening to this will maybe arrive saying, ‘I don’t know anything about this title, this story,’ but the second the first note starts, there will be a sense of, ‘Oh! Somehow I recognize this, somehow this feels right and familiar.’ And then the story unfolds and you become mesmerized by the journey, and it flies right past and you can’t believe that you’ve reached the upper ends of the Amazon so quickly!”
An impressive array of vocal talent has been engaged for the performances. Canonsburg native and former Resident Artist soprano Alexandra Loutsion will sing the role of Florencia, and Craig Verm, another Resident Artist alumni and local favorite, will sing Ríolobo. Famed baritone Nathan Gunn returns to the Benedum as Alvaro, and mezzo-soprano Sandra Piques Eddy will be heard in the role of Paula. Andres Acosta (Arcadio) and Ashraf Sewailam (the Capitán) will make their Pittsburgh Opera debuts, and Resident Artist Natasha Wilson wil sing the role of Rosalba.
Antony Walker conducts, and Stephanie Havey directs the revival of Jose Maria Condemi’s original production. There will be the usual four performances – this Saturday evening (8 p.m.), Tuesday, November 12 (7:00 p.m.), Friday, November 15 (7:30 p.m.) and Sunday, November 17 (2:00 p.m.)
For tickets, full production details, a plot synopsis and more, visit Pittsburgh Opera.
Cast Photos – David Bachman Photography for Pittsburgh Opera
Special thanks to Christian D. Cox, Director of Marketing and Communications for Pittsburgh Opera.
A Pittsburgh native, George B. Parous began his studies of music and the ‘cello in grade school before his interests turned to opera, its performers and history while in his teens. He has been acknowledged as a contributor or editor of several published works (the first being “Rosa Raisa, A Biography of a Diva,” Northeastern University Press, 2001), and is currently working on his own biography of the German-American dramatic soprano, Johanna Gadski, who sang at the Metropolitan during the “Golden Age of Opera.” A retired IT Analyst, he is an avid genealogist, and has traced his maternal line to 8th century Wessex, England. He’s been a contributor to Pittsburgh in the Round since 2014.