Photo by Matthew Staver

A word of warning to any opera queens who might be reading: Keep your voices down when you’re dishing a performer, because you never know who might be listening.

And don’t think that just because you’re far off the beaten path it’s safe to spill!

In Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas, one of the most celebrated new operas of the past 30 years, legendary soprano Florencia Grimaldi sets off down the Amazon by boat from Colombia to Brazil, where she’s to perform at the grand reopening of an opera house in Manaus. The steamboat she’s on is, of course, filled with opera lovers en route to the concert, none of whom realize the beloved diva is in their midst — not even Rosalba, a young journalist working on a biography of Grimaldi, or Paula and Alvaro, a middle-aged couple hoping the diva’s Manaus performance will rekindle the spark of their marriage (no pressure!).


Deeply unhappy with her own life, Florencia, too, is on a voyage of self-discovery — and pining for a past love, Cristóbal, a butterfly hunter who’s gone missing in the jungle while searching for the elusive Emerald Muse.

Did I mention that our steamship is named El Dorado?

It seems everyone on this river cruise is desperately seeking something, even if it’s not the mythical South American city of gold. Will they find what they’re looking for? Or is it, like the diva they’re on a pilgrimage to see, already right there beside them?

Catán was inspired by the writings of Gabriel García Márquez (One Hundred Years of Solitude), so it’s no surprise that Amazonas is seasoned with more than a dash of magical realism. The result is a heady brew — of river spirits, tempestuous card games, an actual tempest, and lovers called back from the brink of death — that pushes the operatic form to new limits of imagination.

Florida Grand Opera’s production, which bows this week at the Arsht Center in Miami, has in Ana María Martínez — a Grammy winner who’s become quite a staple at The Met in New York City — a most promising Florencia. If anybody can make a ride on a slow boat to Manaus entrancing, she can. Throw in a lost Lepidopterist and a river spirit or two, and I am so on board.

Florencia en el Amazonas runs for five performances April 28 to May 5 in the Ziff Ballet Opera House at Adrienne Arsht Center (1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami). For tix ($16–$249) and info: