from Florencia en el Amazonas
Florencia en el Amazonas (Florencia in the Amazon) is the most widely performed of Catán’s operas since its premiere in 1996 at Houston Grand Opera. It follows a group of travelers on a riverboat down the Amazon to the opera house in Manaus, Brazil, where they will hear the famed diva, Florencia Grimaldi, perform a concert in her native country. The passengers are a wealthy older couple, a young female journalist who hopes to interview the diva, and Florencia herself, in disguise, who is returning to search for the long-lost lover of her youth, Cristóbal Ribiero. A butterfly-hunter, he disappeared some years ago into the Amazonian jungle, in search of the elusive Emerald Muse. There is also the boat’s Captain, his nephew, and Riolobo, a deckhand, who symbolizes the soul of the river.
The libretto was written by Marcela Fuentes-Barain, a student of the magic realism school of Gabriel García Márquez. She incorporated this style into the action of the opera, where magical events happen throughout to the seven souls aboard the El Dorado. Florencia’s final aria, Escúchame, is the denouement after the opera’s climax; when she realizes she can neither find Cristóbal nor reach Manaus, she simply metamorphoses into the Emerald Muse to unite with him in another plane of existence. This is Catán at the height of his mature compositional style for the operatic voice. The vocal lines are challenging but lyrical, and the effect is hypnotic and enchanting. During the playout of this aria, in a staged version, projected or physical wings appear and attach to the singer, who assumes the posture of the butterfly.
Where are you, Cristóbal? Did I come all this way to lose you again? Have you been taken again by the voracious jungle? Why do I feel you near? Cristóbal, Cristóbal, I feel you near! Listen to me, listen to me! My voice soars toward you like a bird and spreads its wings over the love of the world. From you was born my singing, from your hands which, dreaming and waking, revere butterflies. I know that you can hear me because my song soars high. If you did not hear it, my voice would not fly. From you was born my song; for you it can cross the turbulent daytime river or the serene nighttime river, and there on the other bank stop to listen, its own murmur of beloved water. I know that you hear me in life or in death. If you did not hear it, my song would not sound. I hear your heartbeat in the wings of every butterfly, in every green brilliance, the wind, the water, in the depths of the jungle, in life or in death, I feel your heartbeat. In the flight of my song, in the soft air, I feel you. Cristóbal Cristóbal! I feel your heartbeat in the soft air of my song! I feel you here, here in my song.