tue 25/06/2024

Ainadamar, Welsh National Opera review - hits hard without breaking ground | reviews, news & interviews

Ainadamar, Welsh National Opera review - hits hard without breaking ground

Ainadamar, Welsh National Opera review - hits hard without breaking ground

Pungent musical and visual imagery that sometimes wears thin

Jaquelina Livieri (Margarita) with tearsImages - Johan Persson

I find it hard to know quite what to make of Ainadamar, Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov’s one-act opera about the life and death of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was murdered in unknown circumstances – probably by Nationalist militia – in the early months of the Spanish civil war in August 1936.

Composed in 2003, Ainadamar is described (anonymously) in the Cardiff programme as “a ground-breaking opera for the 21st century.” But in many ways it seems to me something of a throwback, not just to “portrait” operas like Adams’s Death of Klinghoffer or Glass’s Einstein/ Gandhi/Akhnaten trilogy (which the programme article mentions), but to various politically motivated works of the sixties and seventies. In Deborah Colker’s vivid production, already seen in Scotland last October (and also shared with Detroit and the Met, co-producers alongside WNO and Opera Ventures), it makes powerful use of an eclectic bunch of allusions – religious, political, sexual, ethnic. It bombards the audience with a catalogue of slogans, quotations, radio pronunciamentos, while in between entertaining it with spectacular flamenco dance sequences (brilliantly choreographed by Antonio Najarro and Colker herself). And, in Jon Bausor’s colourful, abstract stage picture – Mirò-like bits and pieces projected on gauze against a black background or sliding rope curtains – it remains intensely watchable.

What it doesn’t really do is adequately dramatise its central subject matter. Lorca himself is present for much of the time, including after his death; he has one beautiful solo aria and contributes much else vocally. But the actual core of the drama, such as it is, lies with the figure of the actress Margarita Xirgu, whose own memories of Lorca, recounted to her pupil Nuria, are presented, movingly, as a series of monologues and conversations, specifically about her recurrent role in Lorca’s play about the 19th century activist, Mariana Pineda. One hangs on her words and on her emotions; but in the end one wearies of a passion that, more than 30 years (and for us more than 85 years) after the poet’s death, refuses to settle into a calm conciliation.Jacquelina Livieri and Hanna HippGolijov himself is a master of pungent musical imagery. He packs a punch, orchestrates superbly, and writes consistently interestingly for voice. Lorca is cast as a female alto, for reasons that are not wholly clear (surely not because he was homosexual); but Golijov makes rich use of the vocal contrasts and dovetailings that this affords with the lyric soprano Margarita, grippingly sung here by Jaquelina Livieri. Hanna Hipp, singing Lorca, has in effect two voices, a tenor and an alto, both very fine but not altogether integrated. There is also an important role for Nuria, another soprano, arrestingly sung by Julieth Lozano Rolong, and there are strong vignettes for the Franco-like figure of the falangist Ruiz Alonso (Alfredo Tejada, suitably strident) and the guard José Tripaldi, who takes Lorca’s confession before his execution (Jasey Hall, a bit gruff). (Pictured above, Jaquelina Livieri and Hanna Hipp)

But what, in the end, about the music? Golijov’s sources, flamenco and cante jondo, touches of klezmer (the composer is Jewish and lived for a time in Israel), and a curious mixture of sonics and romantic cadences, never quite meld into an individual style. The hispanicisms, especially, settle too readily into cliché – the eternal flattened seconds and sixths of the Phrygian mode. But when the drama retreats into the inward, the musical palette and energy fade, and the last quarter-hour drags, despite the best attentions of the conductor, Matthew Kofi Waldren, and the infinitely adaptable WNO orchestra and chorus.

It’s only fair to add that Saturday’s big audience loved the work and cheered it to the gods. Here, after all, is a modern opera with musical imagery that hits hard without descending into twaddle. Maybe one should be thankful for medium-sized mercies.

What it doesn’t really do is adequately dramatise its central subject matter.

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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