You can expect an over-the-top experience during a night out at the Met opera from the moment you walk through the doors, until the minutes-long standing ovations. The premiere of Florencia en el Amazonas, on November 16, was no different. The audience sipped Champagne and posed for photos on the spiral staircases. Soon the house-lights went down, and everyone readied themselves for a historic moment: the first Spanish-language opera staged by the Met in 97 years.
The curtain revealed a bustling scene at the Amazon River port in Leticia, Colombia, during the early 1900s. Passengers prepared to board on a steamship, called the El Dorado, bound for Manaus, Brazil, where the famous Florencia Grimaldi (Ailyn Pérez) was scheduled to sing at the city’s legendary opera house. Everyone was excited for the show except for the diva herself. She boarded last and was dressed incognito: a pink trench coat with blue embroidery, a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, and a veil. The only person who recognized her was an omniscient character named Riolobo (Mattia Olivieri) who, in an early scene, wore gold drop earrings and a patterned vest, which—spoiler alert— are talismans for his mystical powers.
Florencia is not strictly a period piece, but the folklorish libretto is enhanced by a wardrobe by Ana Kuzmanić, a veteran costume designer who is a theater professor at Northwestern University. The individual garments—such as a piranha ball gown and winged dresses—bring to life “Florencia’s” elements of fantastical realism.
Kuzmanic is from Split, a Croatian port city on the luminous Adriatic Sea. “Water is certainly a big inspiration in my life and for my work. It was exciting to work on a piece that is based on water, even though it’s very different,” she said. She wore a gray knit sweater, hoop earrings, and glasses on the video call she took from an office at the Met; a keyboard leaned against the wall behind her. She said that the protagonist’s journey was important to her, too. “Florencia was a huge access point into the piece, everything started from her.”