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Opening Ceremony Kicks Off Brazil's Olympic Games

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

The opening ceremony of the Olympic Games is happening in Rio de Janeiro. After the protests, the political and economic turmoil, the problems with sewage and traffic, this is the moment when Brazil gets to shine. NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro is live on the line from the Olympic city, and she's been watching the show.

Hi, Lulu.

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Hey.

MCEVERS: So how does it looks so far?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Well, obviously, what you're watching in the United States will be a bit delayed. I have seen all...

MCEVERS: Right.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Of the show now, so there will be some spoilers. And I have to...

MCEVERS: OK.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...Tell you I really liked it. You know, it was really striking. It began with a sort of history lesson about how Brazil was built with land and forests, housing the indigenous, and then came in these kind of wooden ships with the Portuguese colonizers. And then you had these images of Brazil's terrible history of slavery. And then you had, you know, the representation of Brazil's modern cities, sprouting up with immigration from places like Asia helping to build this country.

And it was all done, Kelly, with a lot of light and sound. It was very beautiful. It was cinematic is the word that I would use. What it didn't have was armies of extras. And that really did fit into the theme of trying to do more with less. As you know, the budget was cut for this show. And so, you know, they basically had to pare it down, and you did see that. However, you know, there was this beautiful, striking moment with - when the model Gisele Bundchen, in this kind of glowing gown, walked across the stadium to the music of "The Girl From Ipanema." And it was just absolutely moving.

MCEVERS: The creative director was quoted in the press saying that the dress rehearsals for the event were a disaster. Has it come together? I mean, were there any problems that you could see?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: I think it's what they say in show business it all came together on the night. Yeah, it was an unequivocal yes. You know, I think there might be some discussion over the heavy messaging, you know, at the end. They had this whole part about global warming. You know, you had a video with graphs about temperatures rising. And I think this is probably unprecedented in the history of the Olympics to have sort of an issue-based segment in an opening ceremony. But this is the home of the Amazon rainforest. Most of the people here take that responsibility very seriously, so it fit into the wider theme.

MCEVERS: I mentioned the protests in the introduction in the runup to all this. I mean, what do you feel like the general mood is now that the ceremony's underway? How do you think people are viewing the show, and what are they thinking about it?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Yeah, I think with a lot of relief. I think Brazilians were kind of holding their breath. There's been so much bad news in the run-up to these - you know, to the opening ceremony and to the run-up to these games that, you know, they were really just waiting to see if it would all come together, and it did. And, you know, Brazilians love a good show. They love a good party. And they want something to feel proud of. They want, you know, the best face of Brazil to be shown to the world. And, you know, I think when you walk on the city streets and you see tourists and Brazilians interacting, it's a lot of fun. People are enjoying themselves despite all these problems. And this moment, this opening ceremony, is a moment when Brazilians can see the best of themselves reflected to the world.

MCEVERS: I understand during the, like, parade of nations, usually the teams walk along a track. But now they're walking on a samba line. Is that what's happening right now?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Yes. They're walking on...

MCEVERS: Nice.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: ...A samba line. They're being escorted by someone on a bicycle. It's just a lot of fun, really colorful and bright.

MCEVERS: Awesome.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You know, at one point tonight, one of the presenters shouted, here's to diversity. And, you know, I spoke to the directors in the run-up to this, and I know that they really wanted to showcase that - you know, that Brazil is an ethnic and racial melting pot, that it is built on immigration and that, yes, it has a difficult history. It's a developing country, and it has a painful past and a bit of a painful present. But they've managed to rise above it. And I think you felt that tonight. It was a great show.

MCEVERS: Do we know who's going to light the flame?

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Not yet. Not yet.

MCEVERS: OK, that's NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro in Rio de Janeiro. Thank you so much.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.