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Rio's Opening Ceremony Aims To Cast Troubled Games In New Light


Some other news - tomorrow is a big day in Brazil. The Olympics are coming to Rio de Janeiro.


The host city has already been through the preliminaries - protests, dismay over the quality of Olympic construction, an increase in violent crime.

INSKEEP: Not to mention environmental and health problems. Now, Rio gets the prize - a very Brazilian opening ceremony. Here's NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro.


LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: The samba drums will be beating. This is the sound of one of the dress rehearsals for the opening ceremony. There will be a reference to the Amazon rainforest, and, naturally, Brazil's most famous daughter, model Gisele Bundchen, will have a starring role - more about that in a minute. Outside the iconic Maracana Stadium in Rio, where the event will take place, participants were practicing their dance moves yesterday.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Nineteen-year-old Rafaela Mel is a passista, or key dancer, from the samba school of Sao Clemente, and she is taking part in the opening ceremony.

RAFAELA MEL: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "It's a beautiful show. It's filled with surprises," she tells me. "It's going to be awesome."

To get a sense of what those surprises might be, I spoke with the director of the show, Leonardo Caetano.

LEONARDO CAETANO: It's, I think, the biggest moment for every person in this venue that will deliver the biggest show on Earth. And we are a little bit more excited than natural because you have been facing so many challenges that we know that we need this ceremony to pumping up everybody. And we are very confident that we will be great.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: He says, after all the bad news, he wants the world to fall in love with Rio again.

CAETANO: We will talk a little bit about the Brazilian way of life, how the Brazilians receive people, the hugs, the kiss. The other thing is to talk about the nature. We have the biggest garden in the planet. And the last one is talk about how the Brazilians do more with less, so how to be inventive, how to do things in a different way.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So this is what we know about the top-secret ceremony. It will showcase Brazil's history, from Portuguese colonization to slavery to the building of its huge cities and its history of constant immigration. Each of the more than 10,000 athletes will be given the seed of a tree, which will be planted in what will be called Athletes' Park. Now, there has been some controversy surrounding Gisele Bundchen's role. A previous skit was called out as racist in the Brazilian press, and it's now been scrapped. Caetano dismissed the fuss.

CAETANO: We had four hours of content, and the only complaint's about the thing that, you know - it will be not in the show. So I'm very, very happy about this.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And, of course, there'll be music. All the great names - Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso - will participate and so will a much younger star.

SOFFIA CORREIA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Soffia Correia, known as MC Soffia, is 12 years old. Her hair is in bright pink braids, and she has dark glasses on when I meet her at her hotel in Rio. She's been performing since she was 6, and her lyrics are all about being black and poor and urban.

SOFFIA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "My mom called me and told me I was going to be in the opening ceremony of the Olympics, and I was so happy and emotional," she says. She says her message is simple...

SOFFIA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "There is so much racism and sexism and so much prejudice in the world, and it should stop," she says. "It's a message of peace and self-acceptance," she says - a message that will resonate at the beginning of these troubled games. Lulu Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Rio de Janeiro. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Lulu Garcia-Navarro
Lulu Garcia-Navarro is the host of Weekend Edition Sunday and one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. She is infamous in the IT department of NPR for losing laptops to bullets, hurricanes, and bomb blasts.