Lorca Amplified, Mumbled

SpainSpain O. Golijov, Ainadamar: Soloists, Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, Coro Intermezzo, Alejo Pérez (conductor), Teatro Real, Madrid, 8.7.2012 (JMI)

Production Santa Fe Opera

Direction: Peter Sellars
Sets: Gronk
Costumes: Gabriel Berry
Lighting: James F. Ingalls


Margarita Xirgú: Nuria Espert / Jessica Rivera
García Lorca: Kelley O’Connor
Nuria: Nuria Rial
Ruiz Alonso: Jesús Montoya / Marco Berriel
José Tripaldi: Miguel Ángel Zapater
A teacher: David Rubiera
A bullfighter: Ángel Rodríguez

Picture courtesy Teatro Real, © Javier del Real

Teatro Real ended its season with Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, the main—perhaps only—interest of which lies in its dealing with the figure of Federico Garcia Lorca. Like many other operas presented at the Teatro Real this season—C(h)oeurs, Marina Abramovich, Poppea, and Nerone—I think Ainadamar would have suited a festival program better than the regular opera season. That’s where Ainadamar has been variously successful so far, like at its premiere at Tangelwood in 2003 (see Alex Ross’ review), at the Santa Fe summer festival in 2005 (that Peter Sellars staging being the one used in Madrid), at the Golijov Festival at Lincoln Center in early 2006, or Festivals in Birmingham, Cincinnati, and just last year at the Granada Festival. Only lesser opera houses like Darmstadt, Long Beach, Philadelphia, and La Plata (Golijov’s home town) have programmed Ainadamar as part of their regular season. To include it as the regular season finale at the Teatro Real strikes me as capricious.

Ainadamar (“Fountain of Tears” in Moorish) makes reference to the place where Garcia Lorca was killed during the Civil War. The opera presents Lorca’s death as a parallel to Lorca’s own historical drama “Mariana Pineda”, whose characters fill the action during most of the opera, while the protagonist of the last scene is the great, aging actress Margarita Xirgú, friend of the poet, and here reprising her role of Mariana one more time. Both Pineda and Lorca are presented as martyrs for freedom, with amazing parallels in life and death. These two figures are truly universal icons which infuses the opera with meaning and intensity.

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The music of the opera is not the modern kind that produces instinctive rejection in the uninitiated audience… it can be listened with pleasure at times, despite its lack of an author’s personal touch. The libretto by David Henry Hwang mixes memories and tributes, at its best in an excellent selection of Lorca poems. Then again the librettist may not have had much to do with that selection, since these poems are the core of the new and revised version of Ainadamar that was put together for Teatro Real. This, for example, was the first time that an actress is on stage in this opera.

What struck me reading many reviews about different performance of this opera in America or Europe was that very few of them—in fact: none that I came across—mention the fact that all the voices are amplified. (Editor’s note: Bernard Holland, NYT, does; ditto Mark Swed, LA Times)

Peter Sellars’ typically minimalist stage consists of three painted walls in cubist style, which remind of Picasso’s Guernica and leave out a large bare space for the chorus of 12 women dressed in black. Costumes are kept in black, except for Lorca’s executed fellows, and the verse-reciting actress who wears a white gown. The lighting is well done, as is the stage direction, without ever quite becoming exciting. For the last minutes of the opera the painted walls are lifted up to reveal the Isabel II Square and people sauntering about. This trick was used also in La Fura dels Baus’ Magic Flute a few years ago. As Mimi would say: Il perchè non so.

Alejo Perez conducted an interesting and appropriate performance, very carefully balancing the volume in a score where the percussion section plays such an elemental role. Given the amplification, I cannot bring myself to evaluate the vocal performances. Everyone is free to give this issue more or less importance—I can’t help but consider the (composer’s) decision unacceptable. I stopped going to ballet when it became fashionable to offer only canned music and I remember I wrote then that I found that as unacceptable as—then hypothetically speaking—amplifying voices in opera. And here we are. The audience at the premiere—not sold out, probably a result of the mix of Madrid’s high temperatures, Golijov’s relatively low name recognition, and the 309 Euro price tag for the most expensive seats—was less perturbed and gave Margarita Xirgú’s Nuria Espert a particularly warm reception.

José Mª Irurzun