Passengers board the El Dorado, a steamship sailing down the Amazon from Leticia to Manaus. Ríolobo, spirit of the river, tells of Florencia Grimaldi, the legendary diva who will soon re-open the opera house in Manaus. Florencia herself, unrecognized by the other passengers, is the last person to board. She has returned to search for Cristóbal, the butterfly hunter whose passion once awakened her voice.
When Rosalba, a young writer at work on a biography of Florencia, accidentally drops her notebook in the river, Arcadio, the Captain's nephew, retrieves it. The two speak of their dreams: Arcadio wants to be a pilot, while Rosalba hopes to meet Florencia, "a woman dedicated in body and soul to singing." Paula and Álvaro, an older couple who hope Florencia's singing will rekindle their romance, bicker over dinner and finally drop their wedding rings into a champagne bottle, which is knocked overboard. The next morning, the Captain speaks with Florencia and suggests that Cristóbal may have died; Florencia faints. On deck, Rosalba, Arcadio, Paula, and Álvaro play cards. As the tension mounts between Paula and Álvaro, Rosalba and Arcadio find themselves drawn to each other. Later that afternoon, they encounter a storm. Attempting to push a log away from the ship, Álvaro falls overboard. Ríolobo pleads with the gods of the river: "Do not destroy the world!" The Captain faints and Arcadio is forced to take the wheel.
Florencia, having survived the storm, declares that she will search for Cristóbal as long as she lives. Rosalba and Arcadio again speak of their determination to pursue their separate dreams and avoid the trap of love. Paula searches unsuccessfully for Álvaro, calling to him: "I want to save our love...to be by your side forever." Ríolobo gives thanks that the world was not destroyed by the storm. As the Captain prepares to sail, Paula comes in to tell the passengers that Álvaro is lost; at that moment, Álvaro enters, telling everyone that a voice called him back from death: "It came out of love." Rosalba finds her notebook, ruined by the storm. She explains to Florencia that she is writing a book on the great diva. Florencia challenges Rosalba's interpretation of her as "a free woman," insisting that her voice was born from her love for Cristóbal. Rosalba, finally recognizing Florencia, suggests to Arcadio that they try to "be free together." As the ship nears Manaus, Ríolobo announces a cholera epidemic. The Captain says they will be safe if they do not disembark. Florencia sends her song toward her lover, Cristóbal: "I know that you hear me in life or in death. If you were not listening, my song would cease."
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