PBS’s Great Performances series gives us a unique opportunity to experience first-class opera performances directly from our own personal screens. The series continues this month with “Great Performances at the Met: Florencia en el Amazonas” (Florencia in the Amazon), a repeat of the Metropolitan Opera’s live broadcast from 2023.   PBS affiliate WETA Metro is pleased to broadcast this presentation on Sunday, April 7, 2024 at 6:00 p.m. (ET).   Here’s a brief description of the opera, along with a synopsis of each Act.

Dandara Veiga as the Hummingbird and Griffin Massey as the Heron in Catán's "Florencia en el Amazonas." Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

Florencia en el Amazonas is an enchanted tale of a fictitious opera diva, Florencia Grimaldi, and her journey to return to her native South America in the early 20th century to perform at the legendary opera house of Manaus. It’s also her personal journey to travel the Amazon in search of her lost love, Cristóbal, a butterfly hunter who previously disappeared into the jungle.  Onboard a riverboat through the Amazon’s Rain Forest, Florencia --- traveling incognito to avoid being recognized -- encounters interesting fellow travelers in a mysterious and magical world, and, ultimately, a deliverance to peace.

The opera was written by Mexican composer Daniel Catán as a co-commission by Houston Grand Opera,  Los Angeles Opera and Seattle Opera.  It premiered at Houston Grand Opera in 1996 and has since been mounted in major opera houses in Mexico, Germany and the U.S., including Washington National Opera. 

Catán was inspired by magical realism in the novels of Gabriel García Márquez.  Although not based on a Márquez work, the opera’s libretto was written by Marcela Fuentes-Berain, a student of Márquez.  Magical realism is a genre of art that incorporates magical elements into reality, in effect blending reality and fantasy.  In Florencia en el Amazonas, river gods help in perilous conditions and a mystical transformation offers hope and peace within despair.  Although magical realism is often associated with Latin American literature, the device is also used in Indian, European and Asian art.

Griffin Massey as the Heron and Mattia Olivieri as Riolobo in Catán's "Florencia en el Amazonas." Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera
Griffin Massey as the Heron and Mattia Olivieri as Riolobo in Catán's "Florencia en el Amazonas." Photo: Ken Howard / Met Opera

This new Met production and premiere from December 2023 – the first Met production by a Latin American composer in 100 years – is directed by Mary Zimmerman, who takes us on a vivid visual journey brought to life with colorful costumes, puppets, schools of glistening fish, and lush jungle greenery. 

The Met’s Artistic Director, Yannick Nézet-Séguin, leads the presentation that stars internationally-renowned soprano Ailyn Pérez as Florencia Grimaldi.  The cast also includes soprano Gabriella Reyes as the journalist Rosalba; bass-baritone Greer Grimsley as the ship’s captain; baritone Mattia Olivieri as his first mate; tenor Mario Chang as the captain’s nephew Arcadio; and mezzo-soprano Nancy Fabiola Herrera and baritone Michael Chioldi as the feuding couple, Paula and Álvaro. 

The Financial Times said of this Met production:  “Lyrical, colorful, with great vitality . . . an excellent Ailyn Pérez . . . her sound lustrous, full and elegant.”   The Observer commented, “A feast for the eyes . . one of the [Met’s] most visually stunning and emotionally affecting outings.”  And the New York Classical Review noted, “There was no faulting Pérez for the voluptuousness of her voice, nor the passion with which she sang.”

Florencia en el Amazonasis sung in Spanish, supplemented by English subtitles.


Act I.  

A famous opera singer, soprano Florencia Grimaldi, plans to return to her homeland in South America to perform at the legendary Manaus opera house.  She has another motive: She hopes her appearance will attract her former love, Cristóbal, a butterfly hunter who had earlier disappeared into the jungle. Her journey entails sailing down the Amazon River on the steamboat, El Dorado.  Florencia travels incognito to avoid being recognized by fellow passengers, who are traveling to Manaus for her performance.  One passenger, Rosalba, is a journalist who hopes to interview Florencia for a book. 

En route, Florencia spends time alone to ponder Cristóbal, reflect on happy memories and his disappearance.  The ship's mate, Ríolobo, serves as narrator to connect plot elements for the audience, while also using magical realism to weave elements of reality with the mystical environment of the Amazon. 

Arcadio, the steamboat captain’s nephew, rescues Rosalba’s journal notebook when it falls overboard, and she find herself falling in love with him.  Rosalba and Arcadio play a card game with Paula and Álvaro, a feuding couple who are also traveling to Manaus for Florencia’s performance.  A severe storm throws Álvaro overboard and the captain and Riolobo disappear.  Arcadio attempts to commandeer the ship but it runs aground.  Ríolobo reappears as a river spirit who calls upon the river gods to stop the storm. 

Act II. 

Now that the storm has passed and peaceful weather resumes, the passengers onboard El Dorado contemplate love:  Florencia dreams of Cristóbal and feels his presence while still unsure whether he is alive; Rosalba resists the growing affection between her and Arcadio so that she may focus on her mission to interview Florencia; and Paula recognizes her deep love for Álvaro and mourns his loss.  In a magical moment, Álvaro returns to the ship when Riolobo appeals to the river gods.

Rosalba's journal notebook that contains notes for her desired interview with Florencia resurfaces from the water, but is ruined.  She laments its loss to a fellow passenger, only to realize that the passenger is Florencia.  Rosalba admires how Florencia is inspired by love, and yields to her own love for Arcadio.

When the boat arrives in Manaus, the passengers are quarantined onboard due to a dire cholera outbreak on land.  Florencia become discouraged about a reunion with her beloved Cristóbal.  But in the poignant and enchanted conclusion, Florencia is miraculously transformed into a butterfly so that her spirit may soar and indeed be reunited with Cristóbal.

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