Review: Utah Opera takes a magical mystery tour with 'Florencia'

Review • Lush, colorful score and heartfelt performances chase away the winter blues.
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With temperatures barely in the double digits and the air barely breathable, a trip down the Amazon sounds tempting. Sure, there are piranhas, anacondas and possibly a cholera epidemic, but you'll also find fine singing, acting and playing in Utah Opera's production of Daniel Catán's magical-realist opera "Florencia en el Amazonas."

There have been a few Utah Opera productions in which the Utah Symphony's performance alone would justify the ticket price, and this is one of them. The orchestra is as much a character in "Florencia" as the Amazon River. Catán's lush and inviting score, with its generous use of marimba and other percussion, creates a vivid sound picture of the jungle. James Lowe conducted the Utah Symphony in a performance bursting with color and life. At times, it was all the singers could do to ride atop the wave of sound. Fortunately, all seven principals enunciated the Spanish-language text clearly and expressively. "Florencia" is a true ensemble piece, and José María Condemi's stage direction helped assure that each character registered strongly.

Soprano Cynthia Clayton scored another Utah Opera success Saturday with her performance as Florencia Grimaldi, a beloved but enigmatic opera superstar who harbors a secret hope of being reunited with a long-lost lover when she returns to her homeland to sing. Clayton struck the right vocal and dramatic balance of dignity, self-possession and vulnerability.

Baritone Nmon Ford commanded the stage as Riolobo, the mysterious, shape-shifting intermediary between the physical and the metaphysical. Baritone Hector Vásquez provided a firm anchor in reality as the Capitán, Riolobo's counterpart in the tangible realm.

Soprano Andrea Carroll and tenor Jason Baldwin portrayed Rosalba and Arcadio, who fearfully resist their growing attraction; on the flip side of that relationship were mezzo Kirstin Chávez and baritone Christopher Clayton as Paula and Álvaro, a middle-aged couple who have lost sight of what drew them together.

The women made particularly strong impressions Saturday; the scenes in which Rosalba discovers Florencia's identity and the heartbroken Paula discovers how much Álvaro means to her were highlights.

The bare-bones shipboard set of "Florencia" relies on video projections, including a striking depiction of a thunderstorm, to set the scene. Handsome costumes designed by Elizabeth Poindexter and realistic-looking wigs designed by Yancey J. Quick give a considerable boost to the look of this production. —

Love in the time of opera

Utah Opera presents Daniel Catán's "Florencia en el Amazonas."

When • Reviewed Saturday; repeats Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee Sunday.

Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.

Running time • 2 hours, 15 minutes, including intermission.

Tickets • $13 to $78 ($5 more on performance day) at or 801-355-ARTS; discounts for students, subscribers and groups at 801-533-NOTE.

In a nutshell • Romance and magical realism ensue when a legendary opera diva takes a voyage down the Amazon in search of her long-lost lover. The opera is sung in Spanish, with surtitles in English.

Learn more • Utah Opera principal coach Carol Anderson, who has been closely associated with "Florencia" since its creation (and shares in its dedication), will give free lectures in the theater an hour before curtain. Company artistic director Christopher McBeth will hold a Q&A after each performance.