Verónica Villarroel as Florencia Grimaldi in Florencia en el Amazonas
Chilean soprano Verónica Villarroel, a longtime favorite with Los Angeles audiences, returns for her seventh role (more than any other leading soprano) at LA Opera. This season, she stars as the prima donna Florencia Grimaldi in Daniel Catán’s Florencia en el Amazonas.
Your debut here was as Violetta in La Traviata in 1992. What do you remember most about that experience?
I always love singing La Traviata and I had done the same production with the same director the year before in Barcelona. But this was very meaningful to me because it was my first time in Los Angeles and I felt like it was my home. L.A. has been so important to me as an artist and near to my heart. I’ve had a wonderful relationship with the staff, the chorus, everybody—you have always welcomed me. I was impressed by the Latino community; that was when Hispanics for LA Opera was starting, and they have become very dear to me too. With every production I’ve done here, I’ve felt an extra happiness, which in this career is sometimes difficult to find. It’s often very competitive and very lonely. When you come to an opera house that treats you well—warm and welcoming—it makes such a difference.
Verónica Villarroel in her 1992 LA Opera debut as Violetta in La Traviata.
Did you ever meet Daniel Catán, the composer of Florencia en el Amazonas?
I met him briefly twice, when I was singing in Mexico. He came to see me in my dressing room and he mentioned that he was writing this piece, Florencia. I have been talking with and becoming friends with his widow Andrea, who has been so helpful. We’ve talked about what Daniel thought of his trips to the Amazon, how his love is represented in this opera. It’s a very interesting piece. Some composers are interesting but not beautiful; Daniel’s music has everything. It’s modern but romantic at the same time. The vocal parts of this piece are very potent. They’re strong and they’re magical and subtle.
I had heard Il Postino, and I thought that the music was absolutely gorgeous, but I hadn’t heard Florencia when I was offered this role. Would I be able to do it? Andrea gave me a CD, I got the piano-vocal score, and I went through the entire opera. I absolutely fell in love with it! I don’t think anybody can go through the music without feeling it very deeply.
Do you have much in common with Florencia?
It’s about a singer coming back to her home country after a long absence. I know what that’s like; I have been in this career now for more than 30 years. As we get older, every human being has that question mark, that mystery: “Why did I make that decision and not another? What would my life have been like if I had made a different choice?” Florencia has lived life, had a career, and is now going back to where she first discovered love. She’s coming back to find her other half, this soul of her life, the reason why she became a singer. The most beautiful part is at the end when she transforms, coming together with him in the forest, through this love.
Verónica Villarroel as Florencia, with David Pittsinger as the Captain of the El Dorado.
How does Florencia compare to your other roles?
A lot of my characters are strong women like her. It’s not an easy opera. You really have to work through the music to get strong, to build up your muscles and your stamina. The lines are voluptuous; the jumps from one note to another are sometimes very big. You have to give yourself entirely: your body, your technique, your soul. The music is very strong, very emotional. In that way, it’s close to Puccini because it’s easy to understand. You can almost smell the music.
It has been ten years since your last role here, Elettra in Idomeneo.
That was only my third Mozart role. At the beginning of rehearsals, I remember that Kent Nagano told me that I didn’t sound very Mozartian yet. But by the time we got to the performances, he said I did!
Verónica Villarroel in a rehearsal with conductor Kent Nagano for Idomeneo in 2004.
I am truly honored to be back in Los Angeles. I feel very blessed. I didn’t know I’d be coming back to L.A. again at all, and when Florencia was offered to me, I became very emotional. Many years have passed between that Traviata in 1992 and Florencia in 2014. As you grow older, you transform, life around you changes and we must make peace with that. I think this experience will be fantastic. I want to keep it in my soul, my memory, my heart. I hope it goes well and that the public knows that we are doing it with a lot of love. We’re grateful, all of us, to give the public the chance to hear this wonderful music.