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Florencia en el Amazonas

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During a recent trip to the Denver area, I caught my first Opera Colorado production. The company performs in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, a jewel of a re-designed space. Though the capacity exceeds 2,000, the theatre feels intimate and comfortable. The house is designed with acoustics in mind and looks modern without feeling stark or cold. The seats are are roomy and, like the Met, feature the supertitles on the back of the seat in front.

The opera was Daniel Catan's Florencia en el Amazonas. Originally produced to great acclaim in 1996, the opera has had relatively few revivals. But the success of Il Postino, Catan's final opera (he died suddenly last year), coupled with the accessibility of his music, will surely revive interest in all of his operatic output.

In the mid-90's, Catan's compositional style was part of a revival in melodic writing after decades of post-Berg modernism in the opera house. His sound is most frequently described as lush and Puccini-like. Lush it most definitely is, but his palette more closely resembles Ravel, and he is less overtly a musical dramatist (some would charge melo-dramatist) than Puccini, preferring pyschological subtlety to raw emotion.

Librettist Marcela Fuentes-Berain, used the works of Gabriel Garcia Maquez as her inspiration, but chose not to dramatize a particular story. The plot unfolds on a ship sailing down the Amazon carrying  passengers to a special performance in which the world-famous, but oddly reclusive, Florencia Grimaldi will take part. None of them realize that the diva is traveling with them on a pilgrimage to find her lost love. While magical-realism is Marquez's stock in trade, the first act of Florencia feels disappoitingly earthbound, despite the shipboard location. The introduction of the passengers and their familiar emotional baggage by the all-knowing Riolobo feels programatic and more resembles Outward Bound than Love in the Time of Cholera. Thankfully, the second act grows in power as the passengers face tragedy and find redemption.

As Florencia, Pamela Armstrong sings with sure tone and a graceful lyricism which compliments and enhaces the musical line. She also findsa welcome complexity in a character who could have easily devolved into caricature. Beth Clayton uses her rich mezzo to bring vibrance and color to Paula, the disappointed and embittered wife who hopes this journey will revive her crumbling marriage

As the younger pair who apprehensively stumble into love, Inna Dukach and Greg Fedderly sing with energetic radiance and the confidence of youth. Their anti-love duet is a vocal and dramatic highlight. Local bass, Keith Miller, is a commanding Riolobo, while Hector Vasquez as Paula's quick-tempered husband and Kevin Langan as the inscrutable captain fill out the principals with strongly sung performances.

Philip Lineau's protean ship setting, enhanced by Aaron Rhyne's clever projections vividly evokes the romance and the danger of the jungle. Though the broad, unbroken expanse of the deck means that the voices have nothing to help bounce them out towards the audience, Joe Maria Condemi's direction is fluid and sympathetic, always conscious of the personal details. In the pit, Ramon Tebar carefully highlights the exotic impressionism of the score and makes the evening shimmer.

Ellie Caulkins Opera House  March 24 – April 1, 2012



Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”


Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.