Elspeth reviews Scottish Opera’s brand new production.
“What a sad day it was in Granada; the stones began to cry…”
Thus begins Scottish Opera’s new production of Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang’s Ainadamar: a visual and auditory spectacle created through music, poetry, and dance.
The opera is centred around the life and work of playwright and poet Federico García Lorca, who, aged 38, was executed during the Spanish Civil War at the hands of the Falange, for his liberal socialist views and open homosexuality. The site of his execution is thought to be a natural spring flowing in the hills above Granada, known as Ainadamar, meaning ‘Fountain of Tears’.
The opera’s plot flows seamlessly between the past and present. In 1960s Uruguay, actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca’s muse, has fled Spain and dedicated her life to keeping Lorca’s words alive by performing in his play Mariana Pineda for the rest of her career. Ainadamar is told from Xirgu’s perspective, and her memories of Lorca provide glimpses of the past: a happier Spain, then the rising tension, Lorca’s refusal to flee, and her inability to convince him otherwise. The storyline subsequently goes beyond her own memories to bear witness to Lorca’s execution. Xirgu blames herself for Lorca’s death, and in her memories, she elevates him to a symbolic, almost Christ-like figure and revolutionary who “wants to sing amidst the explosions”.
A third storyline binds Xirgu and Lorca together: that of Mariana Pineda, the subject of Lorca’s first successful play. Xirgu performed the titular role in Spain and continued to perform as Mariana Pineda while in exile for the rest of her life. Pineda was a political martyr in Granada, executed in the 1830s (100 years prior to Lorca’s execution) for embroidering the slogan ‘Equality, Freedom and Law’ on a revolutionary flag, in defiance of the absolutist regime of the time. Pineda is not herself a character in the opera, but is omnipresent throughout as Xirgu, and her student Nuria, tell Pineda’s story through Lorca’s words. The opera culminates at Xirgu’s death, where Lorca appears, thanking Xirgu for preserving his memory and passing it on to Nuria.
The seamless melding of the past and present, memory and reality is reflective of the underlying musical score. Composer Osvaldo Golijov did not choose one genre. Instead, he built a soundscape of guitars, percussive flamenco dancing, radio broadcasts, and gunshots, grounded throughout with a women’s chorus stylistically singing with a raw and musical theatre-esque sound, and uplifted throughout by soaring lyrical lines.
Lauren Fagan, as Xirgu, and Samantha Hankey, in the trouser role of Lorca, delivered solid performances. However, it was Julieth Lozano, as Nuria, who stood out with her command of the stage and her rich yet effortless sounding vocals. When the three sing together as Xirgu approaches death, the result is captivating. Xirgu concludes on her own, reminiscent of the Liebestod in Tristan und Isolde, singing ‘Yo soy la Libertad’ or ‘I am freedom’, encapsulating the idea that freedom and rebirth is achievable through death as she at long last is reunited with Lorca to the sounds of the weeping of the guitar, the crooning of the women’s chorus, and the trickling of the Fountain of Tears.
While the entire cast and crew delivered a quality performance, the highlights of the show rest on the shoulders of internationally renowned flamenco singer Alfredo Tejada in the role of Ruiz Alonso, the man who arrested Lorca, and the four dancers: Julia Fernandez, Josie Sinnadurai, Juan Pedro Delgado, and Aitor Hernandez. Tejada’s otherworldly singing and the physicality and emotion of the dancing immediately transported the audience away from a Glasgow theatre on a rainy night to the streets of Granada, swept up in violence and revolution.
I applaud the ambition of Scottish Opera (in collaboration with Opera Ventures and co-produced by Detroit Opera, The Metropolitan Opera, and Welsh National Opera) for putting on a new production; such an undertaking requires a vision and a leap of faith. Olivier Award-winning director Deborah Colker, known for her collaborations with Cirque du Soleil and the 2016 Olympic Opening Ceremony, was just the woman for the task, delivering an intense and intoxicating package. From the singing to the staging, and from the set to the dancing, Ainadamar should not be missed.
For anyone expecting a ‘traditional’ opera, Ainadamar would come as a shock.
It does not contain melodies that can absent-mindedly be hummed along to, and no heroic tenor takes centre stage. Instead, Ainadamar represents the potential for the operatic art form, carving a place for opera in the 21st century and beyond.