It’s a pleasant anachronism. The Manaus Opera House (Theater of the Amazon) was built by the Rubber Barons at the end of the 19th century. The house is decadent; angels, theatrical masks, a painted curtain and a ceiling mural with a Murano glass chandelier hanging from its center. It was designed for grand opera and grand drama. Enrico Caruso was scheduled to sing here, rode up the Amazon on a steamer, took one look at the town and refused to get off the ship. The Experimental Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus of the Amazon performed under a giant Jumbotron LED screen. At first it looked like the Jombotron was there to give us the “airline safety video,” you know, exit rows, no smoking, no cell phones. But that wasn’t its reason to be. The program was symphonic arrangements of video game music. The jumbo screen provided the video games.
The concertmaster came on stage dressed as one of the Mario Brothers. The orchestra was made up of older kids and adults and the choir was dressed as figures from video games. The performance started with the theme from “Super Mario Brothers.” The music accompanied the action on the screen. Then came Zelda, Helo, Skyrim and Final Fantasy. The videos started with images from when the games first came out and progressed through different releases. For Helo and Final Fantasy especially you could see the advance in computer graphics over 25 years. Or you could close your eyes and enjoy the music.
With the elaborate painted curtain half raised, the jumbotron flashing Super Mario Brothers just below, all framed by gilded boxes, it was both a disorienting and amusing evening. The locals greeted it with screams, shouts, standing ovations and an encore call for the final movement of Final Fantasy. And the several rows of elderly cruise ship passengers? Most of us liked it. Others were confused. As a final encore a dramatic thunder and lightning show broke with a deluge just as we left the air conditioned, positively chilly, theater and walked into the steamy jungle night. A couple of hours earlier we had disembarked a canoe in the rainforest to return to the big city and the concert hall. Tonight, it seemed, the rain forest was claiming us back.