Magical Realism Flourishes through Community Collaboration
by Martin Brady
Nashville Opera kicks off 2015 with the highly anticipated presentation of Florencia en el Amazonas, performed January 23, 25, and 27 at TPAC’s Polk Theater. Composed by the late Mexican Daniel Catán, this strikingly lush piece draws on the rich musical influences of Puccini and Debussy and features a libretto that evokes the magical realism of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Gabriel García Márquez (who passed away in April 2014). It is also the company’s first Spanish-language production, a fact that has presented new challenges in connecting with the local audience.
“Once we programmed the opera, we started looking for ways we could engage Nashville theater-goers, in particular the Spanish-speaking community,” says Reed Hummel, the opera’s senior director of sales and marketing. “We went to the Vanderbilt Center for Latin American Studies and discussed a lot of different educational options. Then we considered the possibility of somehow involving local visual artists.”
The opera’s brainstorming led them to the increasingly influential Casa Azafrán, the Nolensville Road community center for immigrants, which has also become a business incubator and hub for social services. Enter Marcela Gomez, a marketing and communications dynamo who has been a key player in the bilingual and bicultural life of Middle Tennessee for more than a decade. From there, the opera connected with Anne Brown, a longtime mover and shaker on Nashville’s art scene.
“The opera wanted to reach out to the Spanish community, to find artists who might do some special pieces related to their upcoming production,” says Brown, owner of downtown’s The Arts Company gallery. “We love to collaborate, but this was not the typical approach, since usually artists come to us looking for a gallery. Marcela helped us figure out how to discover the artists and get them interested in the project.”
The visual art exhibition—which begins its life at The Arts Company (January 3–17), travels to TPAC, then to the opera’s Noah Liff Center in Sylvan Park, and finally comes to rest at Casa Azafrán through May—features nine artists: Mandy Peitz Moody, Antuco Chicaiza, Yuri Figueroa, Liliana Velez, Orlando García-Camacho, Jairo Prado, Jorge Arrieta, Jorge Yances, and Mike Quiñones.
“Many of these artists were unknown to me,” says Brown. “Their work all relates to the theme of magical realism or as an expression of their individual experience as part of the Latin community in Nashville.” The opera’s collaboration with The Arts Company was made possible by a generous grant from the Metro Nashville Arts Commission.
As for the Vanderbilt connection, the university’s ongoing involvement includes a course on composer Catán’s work (January 9, 14, 21), plus a teachers’ workshop (January 10) on the environment and ecology, which relates to the opera’s South American setting and its romantic Amazon River adventure.
As always, opera artistic director John Hoomes has assembled an impressive cast of world-renowned singers, including Cuban-born soprano Elizabeth Caballero (last seen in Nashville in Pagliacci in 2011) and gifted bass—and former college and pro football running back— Keith Miller.
“Nashville has one of the largest and fastest-growing Hispanic communities in the country,” says Hummel, “and we want to represent their cultural interests. After Florencia’s success in Houston, Los Angeles, and elsewhere, we thought it was the right time to program it here.”
Florencia en el Amazonas, will be performed by the Nashville Opera January 23, 25, and 27 at TPAC’s Polk Theater. For tickets and information, visit www.nashvilleopera.org. The accompanying exhibition will be on view at The Arts Company January 3–17. Visit www.theartscompany.com for more information about the art and artists.