A total (and often captivating) theatrical experience: Ainadamar’s review of Scottish opera
Do you remember Osvaldo Golijov? Two decades ago, he was classical music’s next big thing: a believable postmodernist with lush, listenable tonal flair, and an Argentinian with a complex and interesting European heritage in a millennium where everyone agreed – for a while, anyway – that the future was Latin American. . Major labels recorded his music from its premiere; he was popular. Too popular for some – I remember a promoter of contemporary music lamenting, with the attitude of a householder who has just found the Head Boy smoking behind the garbage cans, that Golijov “doesn’t was not developed as we hoped”. Anyway, Golijov was great, then something stalled. Orders failed to materialize, there were rumors of creative blockage, and the show continued.
So here we are in 2022, finally seeing the “Scottish premiere and UK premiere” of Golijov’s 2003 opera Ainadamar. Note these qualifications: Ainadamar was captured for a UK premiere around the height of Goli-mania in 2008 (not in a theatre, but by the CBSO in Birmingham) and it hasn’t been seen here since. The impression left by this 2008 concert was that of an essentially static work, a dramatic cantata emphasizing the cantata rather than the dramatic. At least this new production by Deborah Colker for Scottish Opera sets the record straight. The visual dimension adds enormously to the effectiveness of the score. Ainadamar belongs to the theatre.
But Colker goes further – designing an onstage world that makes sense of the dreamlike flashbacks and narrative layers of David Henry Hwang’s libretto, and presenting it with a bravery that matches (some might say saves) the smoky, infused music. of flamenco by Golijov. The story, condensed into a little too long 80 minutes, is the death of Federico Garcia Lorca, told in flashback by actress Margarita Xirgu, star of Lorca’s Marianne Pineda. Designer Jon Bausor has created a circular curtain of hanging wires; a shifting, permeable barrier between fact and fiction, past and present, and using video projections (Tal Rosner) and moody lighting (Paul Keogan), it provides cover for the shifts scene, as well as full-fledged abstract images. Margarita (Lauren Fagan), overwhelmed with grief, runs around the circle, waving the threads with her hand. Blood-red strings slide from above, in an eerie inversion of the opera’s central image – the “fountain of tears” outside Granada where Lorca is believed to have been murdered.
Both tracks (only two really count for much, though Julieth Lozano was sprightly and likeable as Margarita’s student Nuria) took that space and filled it with warm-blooded life. Margarita carries the show effectively, and Fagan – fresh out of playing village pie in The Wreckers to Glyndebourne – infuses a tearful fervor into every gesture and every phrase, scraping a dark, bitter residue of pain from its low notes. She’s terrific, her vocal performance clearly informed by the wild, heartbreaking scream of flamenco singer Alfredo Tejada, playing the Phalangist officer whose menacing broadcasts (projected as news headlines) are the most chilling moments in history. . That folk idioms don’t automatically equate with freedom or authenticity is one of the most gratifying aspects of Golijov’s score.
Against Margarita’s flamboyant conviction, Lorca himself (a pants role, sung by Samantha Hankey) is a cooler, dapper client in a suit and tie. Again, Hwang and Golijov’s decision to present Lorca as an entertainer with an inner voice (as opposed to the politicized theatrics of actress Margarita) is a compelling characterization, and Hankey embodies the poet with grace. easy. His masculine ambulation is matched only by the measured passion of his singing, which gradually narrows into a cry of pain. There’s gripping choreography without too many eye-blinks or castanet-clapping, and though your enjoyment of Golijov’s music (played warmly and tightly paced under the direction of Stuart Stratford) will depend on your personal tolerance level for the flamenco guitars and sultry trumpet solos, this production goes beyond the music: it’s a total (and often captivating) theatrical experience. An opera, in other words. Golijov came on stage to salute. He looked delighted.
In Manchester, Sir Mark Elder conducted Verdi Requiem and it was as great as expected, with the low brass (with cimbasso – imagine a trombone filled with growth hormones, then wrapped around a lamppost) flooding the lower part of the orchestra with the velvety blackness of El Greco while the Hallé Choir floated and shone like a cherub from above (they were incredibly agile in Verdi’s massive choral fugues). Soprano Natalya Romaniw soared through clouds of glory, singing like she was in Don Carlos and quivering with passion on the final ‘Libera me’. Apparently it was his first Verdi Requiem and Elder persuaded her to sing it; in which case we have yet another reason to be grateful to Sir Mark.
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