Pensacola, Florida
Wednesday March 20th 2019

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Getting Weird at the Opera

By Jeremy Morrison

With its performance of “Florencia in the Amazon,” Pensacola Opera plans to fully immerse its audience. The experience is intended to overwhelm.

“The visual spectacle in combination with the rich aural offerings is almost a sensory overload,” Jerome Shannon, the company’s artistic director, described the production.

Loosely based on the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, particularly the novel “Love in the Time of Cholera,” “Florencia in the Amazon” was composed by Daniel Catan and premiered in 1996.

Pensacola Opera will present an incarnation of the work that Shannon describes as a technical tour de force, combining music and a dual visual display of choreography and video projections to convey the “magical realism” style Garcia Marquez was noted for.

“The music is as lush as the Amazon forest itself,” the artistic director said, “filled with exotic color and opulent orchestrations. The voices combine with this river of sound to transport us into a dimension of magical realism.”

Really Magical
“Florencia” tells the story of Florencia Grimaldi, who boards the ship El Dorado to travel down the Amazon River toward her home of Manaus, Brazil, in pursuit of long-lost love Cristobal. The opera’s entirety takes place on the top deck of the El Dorado.

“The actual, physical production is very simple,” Shannon said of the set.

However, as “Florencia’s” story unfolds on the deck of the El Dorado, a large screen set up behind that scene will display video—of the river, the forest, a storm—for the entirety of the production.

“It is a character within itself,” Shannon said of the video element.

In addition to the video, the opera will feature performers serving as the Amazon River.

Positioned in front of the El Dorado and balancing the projected video, a choreographed river becomes yet another of the opera’s characters.

“Choristers in white spandex bodysuits bringing the Amazon to life while embodying the spirit of magical realism,” Shannon explained.

In order to pull off such an elaborate and technical interpretive production, Pensacola Opera had to procure 20,000 projectors and reams of cable, as well as ensure the production’s power needs could be accommodated.

“The challenge has been to create the environment which allows us to recreate this production on the Saenger stage,” Shannon said.

This particular production of “Florencia” is a result of the partnership between director John Hoomes and video and lighting director Barry Steele. Pensacola Opera Executive Director Chandra McKern first saw it while serving as director of education for the Nashville Opera, where Hoomes serves as general and artistic director.

“The power of its musical storytelling combined with the visual spectacle put this opera at the top of her must-present bucket list,” Shannon said.

Both McKern and Shannon have worked with Hoomes previously—at the Nashville Opera and elsewhere—though this will be the director’s first time working with the Pensacola Opera.

“John is well known throughout the operatic industry for productions which engage and delight,” Shannon said.

“Florencia” will also introduce to the Pensacola audience baritone Luis Alejandro Orozco in the role of Riolobo. The character of Riolobo is key to conveying the opera’s magical realism style, serving both as deckhand on the El Dorado as well as a river god who exists under the Amazon’s surface.

The production’s leading lady, Elizabeth Caballero, will be familiar to Pensacola opera fans. She played Violetta in Pensacola Opera’s production of “Travita” in 2016 and the title role in “Madame Butterfly” in 2018. The singer has also performed with the Metropolitan Opera and New York City Opera, and this is her fifth time performing in “Florencia.”

Cody Martin, Pensacola Opera’s director of Education and Artists in Residence Program, will serve as conductor for “Florencia.” Martin has conducted for the Virginia Opera, Arizona Opera and Des Moines Metro Opera, among others.

The Birth of an Opera
The creative partnership between Hoomes and Steele has produced more than 20 productions during the pair’s run. Their production of “Florencia” represents the third of the duo’s works to incorporate video and projection technology as a dominant element.

There will soon be a fourth such collaboration between the director and designer. Pensacola Opera has asked the team to create a new production specifically for the local company.

“Pensacola Opera is thrilled,” Shannon said.

The title of the new Hoomes-and-Steel production will be announced during the company’s “Florencia” run. Each night, prior to the performance, the audience will be informed of the new work.

And then they will be invited into the magical realism of “Florencia.”

“The audience can expect to be overwhelmed,” Shannon said.

“FLORENCIA IN THE AMAZON”
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 15, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 17
WHERE: Saenger Theatre, 118 S. Palafox
COST: $25-$115
DETAILS: pensacolaopera.com