FROM LIFE TO MYTH: MARIANA PINEDA, FEDERICO GARCÍA LORCA, AND MARGARITA XIRGU*|
by Robert Kirzinger
* These notes refer to the original (2003) version of Ainadamar rather than to the revised (2005) version.
Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang's choice of Federico García Lorca as subject for Ainadamar ("Fountain of Tears") derives from their individual and shared interest in Lorca, one of the greatest of Spanish poets, who was killed by fascist rebels at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. The opera's focus is on three real-life characters: Margarita Xirgu, a famous Spanish actress whose support of Lorca elevated his career; Federico García Lorca himself; and the 19th-century folk heroine Mariana Pineda, about whom Lorca wrote one of his first plays, in which Margarita Xirgu played the leading role.
Golijov and David Henry Hwang, having been introduced to one another by a mutual colleague, first met many months ago to discuss a future, long-term project. When Golijov talked of his trouble finding a libretto for the Boston Symphony's commission, Hwang, who has written several librettiincluding a few with Philip Glass and The Silver River with Bright Shengagreed to a collaboration.
While the details of Lorca's life and death are undeniably dramatic, both Golijov and Hwang are drawn to Lorca through his poetry and plays. Lorca is arguably the most important Spanish-language poet and dramatist of recent centuries, so naturally Osvaldo Golijov, having grown up in La Plata, Argentina, was exposed to his writings from an early age. David Henry Hwang, being a dramatist himself, has also read Lorca's work extensively. Both grew to care deeply about the poet's themes as well as the lyricism and dark passion (characteristics captured by the Spanish word duende) of his style. Hwang relates particularly to certain aspects of Lorca's work that are similar to his own, for example, Lorca's synthesis of folk and modern traditions. In his own work, Hwang has often blended elements of Asian traditions together with questions pertaining to modern (and Western) society, such as in his Tony Award-winning play M. Butterfly. Another approach to be found in the work of both writers is the merging, or pointed diverging, of the political and the personal, which is a key to Lorca's Mariana Pineda.
With allowance for the abstraction of musical expression, these are approaches that can also be traced throughout much of Osvaldo Golijov's work. The klezmer influence in The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind, flamenco in Ainadamar, tango in Last Round, and various Latin American styles and dance forms in La Pasión Según San Marcos all fuse with the composer's well-developed "modern" technique, in addition to other influences from throughout Western concert music.
Another point of specific contact for Hwang is Lorca's development of a "ritualized, poetic theater," which implies a stylization and recontextualization of familiar materials into a new, deliberately "artistic" medium. This, too, parallels some of Golijov's work, for example the retelling of the traditional Christian Passion through the stylized voice of Latin America's music and dance in his La Pasión Según San Marcos. In working with the composer, Hwang set out deliberately to create something that would be dramatically viable on its own, without the music, as well as something that could inspire the composer in his creation. Both artists made adjustments as the work progressed. The librettist picked up on Golijov's gravitation toward Spanish folk music and flamenco, and made efforts to give his texts structures that would complement the composer's approach. Hwang wrote his libretto in English; Golijov then translated the piece into Spanish, giving it, to an English-speaking audience, a further remove from realist practice, even beyond what is already achieved by its being sung.
Ultimately both artists were concerned with focusing the opera's story on Federico García Lorca the man, as distinct from the symbol of artistic and political freedom that he seems to have become.
Federico del Sagrado Corazón de Jésus García Lorca (Federico "of the Sacred Heart of Jesus") was born June 5, 1898, in Fuente Vaqueros in Andalucia, the first child of a wealthy sugar-beet magnate and his second wife, a teacher.* While Federico was still a child, the family moved to the culturally diverse regional center, Granada, the erstwhile seat of Moorish Spain. Although by the time he was a young adult Lorca would chafe to leave the city of his coming-of-age, the city and its environs and people would remain a key to the poet's aesthetic and subject matter.
As a child Federico showed remarkable musical talent, particularly as a pianist, although later he took up the guitar and sang, made arrangements of folksongs, and composed a little. His writing career seems to have risen from the ashes of the end of his formal musical training, at about the time of his teacher Antonio Segura's death in 1916, when Lorca first began to write poetry and prose seriously. He also began to develop lasting relationships with artists and scholars in Granada, including the composer Manuel de Falla. The two would collaborate on several aborted projects and completed a brief "puppet opera" together, and it was partly with Falla as a catalyst that Lorca became deeply involved in the study of cante jondo or "deep song," the music of the Gypsies considered to be the roots of popular flamenco.
Lorca attended Granada University to fulfill his parents' practical expectations that he achieve a degree in law, but also attended a liberal arts school in Madrid called the Residencia de Estudiantes, where he made many important acquaintances and lifelong friendships. Among the most intense were those with the painter Salvador Dalí and the future filmmaker Luis Buñuel. Lorca had a magnetic personality, and his impromptu poetry readings, piano recitals, and performances of Spanish folksong strongly impressed many of his instructors and fellow residents. It was while living at the Residencia that Lorca wrote his first important play, Mariana Pineda (1923-24). After several years of frustration, the play was a big step for his career when it was produced by Margarita Xirgu's company in Barcelona in late spring 1927, and then again to open that fall's season in Madrid. The following year saw the publication of his book of poetry, Gypsy Ballads, which was an unqualified success. From that time Lorca's fame grew, and over the next few years he wrote his most famous plays, including Blood Wedding, Yerma, and The House of Bernarda Alba. He traveled to the AmericasNew York, Cuba, Argentinaand his work began to be staged there occasionally as well as with greater and greater frequency throughout Spain.
The political situation in Spain was one with which the adult Lorca and most of his acquaintances were almost continually at odds. Following a coup at the end of 1923, a strict military dictatorship (accepted by the established monarchy of King Alfonso XIII), lasting for seven years, came into being. At the end of 1930 rebels intent on creating a true republic staged uprisings that would help bolster popular demand for general elections, which were held the following spring and which created the government of the Second Republic. King Alfonso XIII left the country, thus ending the traditional monarchy. However, the Republican government was also somewhat unstable, and over the following years shifted between Republican and right-wing factions, the latter encouraged by the rise of fascism in Germany and Italy. Lorca, whose work had already positioned him on the side of the liberals, publicly stated that, as an artist, he was sympathetic with the cause of the common people. He was also vocal in his opinion that the expulsion of the Jews and Arabs from Spain (beginning with the fall of Granada in 1492) was the worst tragedy in the country's history. Because of his opinions, and in spite
of his refusal to align himself explicitly with any political party, the right wing pegged him as a "Red" and accused him of communicating with "the Russians."
In February 1936, general elections were held and a new ruling liberal coalition was formed. Continuing strong opposition by the fascist Falangist party and right-wing sympathizers, including high-profile assassinations, continued to threaten the stability of the government, which had its own internal problems due to lack of cooperation among factions. The anarchist, socialist, and communist parties were agitating from the far left, and the sitting government was virtually powerless without their support.
In July 1936, following further anti-Republican violence, and feeling that his country was falling apart around him, Lorca left Madrid for his home in Granada, in spite of warnings from his friends.
In July military garrisons throughout the country, including Granada, rose in support of a right-wing coup, and Granada fell into the hands of the fascists. On August 9 Lorca was placed under "house arrest" after attempting to stop the beating of a family friend. After contemplating but rejecting the thought of retreating to the house of Manuel de Falla (who would later attempt to secure his release, but too late), Lorca fled to the home of his friend, the poet Luis Rosales. (Incredibly, the Rosales family agreed to shelter Lorca in spite of being allied with the local Falangist authority.) On August 16, Lorca was found and arrested by the fascist Ramón Ruiz Alonso, who was on record as despising the poet. Señora Rosales (Esperanza Camacho, Luis Rosales's mother) initially refused to let them take Lorca away, but he eventually left with Alonso and his men. Later, several of the Rosales brothers, Alonso's superiors in the Falangist organization, attempted to secure Lorca's release, but they were too late.
In the early morning of August 18, 1936, or the following day, Lorca and other prisoners were taken to a makeshift prison in Viznar, a village near Granada, where the Falangists executed hundreds of political enemies. Lorca's stay there was witnessed by a guard, José Jover Tripaldi. Lorca and three other prisonerstwo bullfighters, and a schoolteacher with a wooden legwere taken from there to the Fuente Grande, the source of a canal carrying water to Granada that was built in the eleventh century during Arab times. The Arabs called the place AinadamarThe Fountain of Tears. This is where Lorca and the other prisoners were shot.
The action of Osvaldo Golijov and David Henry Hwang's Ainadamar takes place in several different "realities," all centered on Lorca's early play Mariana Pineda, in which he seems to foretell the circumstances of his own death. The real-life Mariana Pineda, a statue of whom stood near the Lorcas' home,
was born in Granada in 1804 and was executed (via garroting) on May 26, 1831, at the age of 26. By age 21 she had become a political activist and sympathizer with the liberal underground against the reign of the Spanish King Fernando VII, helping provide false papers, organizing meetings, facilitating correspondence between political exiles and those still in Granada. In 1825, Fernando VII appointed Ramón Pedrosa y Andrade chief of police of Granada; he was notably anti-liberal, tyrannical, and intolerant. His social acquaintance with Mariana, who was a respected member of the community, was further complicated by an amorous fascination he apparently had for her.
In 1828 Mariana had a hand in the escape of a condemned prisoner, the freedom fighter and accused conspirator Pedro de Sotomayor. Sentenced to death in 1827, he fled following his escape to the British colony of Gibraltar (on the southern tip of the Iberian peninsula). It was ostensibly for Pedro that Mariana embroidered a Masonic flag with the words "Ley, Libertad, Igualtad" ("Life, Liberty, Equality"). For this flag Pedrosa had her arrested, and for refusing to name the liberal conspirators she was put to death. The liberals made no attempt to aid in her defense or escape.
By the time Mariana Pineda was completed in 1924, the woman herself had been legend and a symbol of liberty for nearly 100 years. Written and staged during the dictatorship of Miguel Primo de Rivera, the play and its message struck a chord with Spain's artists, liberals, and victims of institutional oppression in spite of its almost anti-political theme. Lorca humanized the historically recorded Mariana, dovetailing her liberalist motives with those of the heart. He drew on the intricate, nuanced character of local and national inherited memory: granadinos (the Spanish term for the people of Granada) had long related that Mariana's passionate upholding of individual liberties was closely tied to her own personal passions. In his play, Lorca stresses not Mariana's political righteousness but her perhaps desperate loyalty to Pedro de Sotomayor.
Beneath the drama of its details, the opera Ainadamar is essentially a long, multi-layered conversation, as the actress Margarita Xirgu reconciles her feelings about Lorca's death and her own continuing existence. Through observance of her own younger self (Young Margarita) in interaction with the poet (Lorca) discussing that earlier individual and symbol, Mariana Pineda, Margarita comes to realize the importance of her role in maintaining Lorca's work as a voice of a real person who truly lived in the world, rather than as some literary and political abstraction. (This, of course, is also a key goal of David Henry Hwang and Osvaldo Golijov's piece.) Margarita's music and memory slide back and forth between her own present in 1966 and three earlier times: her first meeting with Lorca; her first performance of Mariana Pineda; and the scene of the poet's death, which she did not witness. The use of different layers of time in Ainadamar allows composer and librettist to emphasize the lack of clear boundaries between fiction and fact, to demonstrate what Golijov calls "the fragility of what we call reality."
The breakdown of the distinction between fiction and fact, between art and reality, is an integral part of the opera's sound-world. At the start of the work we hear the recorded sound of water, from which the sound of a horse emerges, which in turn seamlessly becomes music. In the "Gunshot Interlude" at the end of the opera's second part, we are confronted with an extreme separation of art and concrete reality, when with the very sound of violencegunshotswe are brutally shocked out of a lyrical reverie. As the interlude continues, even this harsh sound is transformed into music. In some sense this fluid use of musical style and raw sound parallels surrealist elements in Lorca's own work. Golijov makes explicit reference to this in the instrumental interlude Crepésculo delirante ("Delirious Sunset"), in which he evokes Lorca's stage direction in the final pages of Mariana Pineda: "From here on, the scene should acquire the delirious light of sunset in Granada."
As noted above, Golijov's use of different musical styles has been a feature of his entire output. In Ainadamar, the most poignant reference is to the flamenco of Lorca's own region, in the use of guitar and in some aspects of the sung parts, particularly that of Ramón Ruiz Alonso. The early scene "Mariana, tu cuello" ("Mariana, your neck") is set to a long, slow-building, foreboding rumba, incidentally similar to Ravel's Bolero. The madrigals of the late Renaissance composer Gesualdo are evoked in the "Arrest" scene, and the final scene is inspired in part by music in Richard Strauss's Daphne.
In Ainadamar, it is through Margarita's memory that, for the audience, the legend of Lorca becomes the man himself. Margarita identifies herself with the character of Mariana Pineda, who in turn is identifiable with Lorca, particularly in the chilling coincidence of the circumstances of their deaths. The aging Margarita is left, many years after Lorca's murder, overcome with "survivor guilt" at not having been able to do something about his death. Exacerbating her guilt is the memory that when she had been with the poet in Bilbao in January 1936, she had invited him to go with her on her upcoming tour of the Americas. He decided not to go, and she never saw him again. At the end of Ainadamar, she realizes that her most important role was to continue to be Lorca's voice in the face of the continuing struggle of humanity against such regimes as the one that cut his own life short.
Osvaldo Golijov speaks of emphasizing the sacredness of innocent life and the danger of believing in symbols at the expense of life itself; of how much love it takes to create something but how little effort to destroy; of the victims of senseless warall of which, perhaps ironically, could not be made clear here without again relying on Lorca-as-symbol. Golijov describes the opera Ainadamar as, above all, a "lyrical pomegranate," a ballad grown ripe in Granada's "delirious sunset" to the point of bursting with the beauty, love, horror, and sorrow of its subjects. As Lorca did with Mariana, Golijov and Hwang wish, through the voice of Margarita, to strip away the gilding of legend from Lorca's life in order to recapture Federico as an individual, to regain the meaning of that individual's life and death for those, like Margarita, who loved him.
Notes from the Los Angeles performance (by John Henken):
The dramatic "action" of Ainadamar is multi-focal: the actress Margarita Xirgu reflecting on her first meeting with Federico Garcóa Lorca, her first performance of his play Mariana Pineda, his death at the beginning of the Spanish Civil War, and even the "real" moments take place in the artificial world of the theater. The music likewise plays with the abstract and the concrete, fantasy and history, ritual and improvisation.
Traditional thematic and harmonic markers are not unimportant here. Large sections of the music are defined by pedal tones, for example, or consider the way the initial off-stage trumpet prefigures Xirgu's final apotheosis, "Yo soy la Libertad."
But in Golijov's score, sound itself, down to details of timbre and articulation, is even more important. There are no borders here, though, or one-to-one correspondences. The most concrete sounds recorded water, horses, gun shots are also the most symbolic. Water, for example, can be the sound of Ainadamar itself, the Moorish Fountain of Tears, and, by extension, tears. Yet there is no water more poetically true than the falling voices on the word 'Ainadamar,' or tears more moving than the heaving orchestral sighs as Xirgu sings "Adios, dry your tears," before dying. Water is also life, the "profound deeps" on which the stars of Mariana, Lorca, and Xirgu shine, and it is water which remains at the end of the opera.
Rhythm and dynamics, color and texture, style and expression are more definitive here than pitch sequences. Whole numbers are constructed as extended crescendos, for example, gathering intensity through dynamics and orchestration. Golijov's crescendos suggest coming into focus physically, as a Spanish street procession drawing near; temporally, as distant memory becoming immediate feeling.
There are beautiful set pieces, such as Lorca's darkly wistful "Aria of the Statue," but structurally Ainadamar is organic, all the many threads of time and place tightly woven together, all scenes a direct segue or attacca from the previous one. The ballad that opens Lorca's Mariana Pineda, however, articulates the three main sections of the opera. This recurrence of the ballad distinguishes between "real time" (Margarita's memories take only a minute or two) and "psychological time" (a whole life time can truly be relived in a minute). Three percussionists pick up the galloping beat from the Prelude, drumming and clapping in flamenco style. Guitars and brass join them, and then a chorus of girls sings "Ay, qué dóa tan triste en Granada" as a street song, identifying Mariana Pineda as the locus binding Xirgu and Lorca, rooting it in a Granada both real and imagined, yet also suggesting the opening of the performance of the play in Xirgu's Uruguayan theater.
It brings us forcefully from Xirgu's memory world to her backstage reflections at the opening of the "Federico" section, beginning "Margarita" it serves as a dirge for the just-slain Lorca, and it returns at the end in a haunting reminder and summation. (The final time we hear the ballad from "inside" Margarita's imagination, as opposed to the first two times, in which it is a "realistic" street song.)
Throughout, Golijov is quite explicit about musical characterization. Xirgu's reflections, for example, begin as a rumba, taking us from the streets of Granada to an urban South American theater in the 1960s. This is one of Golijov's vast crescendos, building on a single pedal point and rhythmic ostinato to the climactic question that obsesses the actress: "Why did I not die young, like you [Lorca] and Mariana?" Ruiz Alonso's wailing cries, Golijov indicates, should be sung like "a possessed Cantaor Flamenco," and Lorca's own entry, reciting his own poetry, clearly suggests flamenco style.
The Lorca who comes forward in Xirgu's imagination is sung by a mezzo-soprano. For all of the earthy, rooted specificity of the music, there is also a strong sense of ritual, of the art in artifice. That is one of the reasons why Golijov translated Hwang's libretto from English into Spanish. The center of the opera, the Arrest scene in "Federico," is almost liturgical in its call-and-response patterns in Alonso's accusations, the questioning choir of Rosales women with whom Lorca had taken refuge, and the observations of Lorca and Xirgu. The staging brings the audience into the ritual, as we observe with Xirgu in the wings while the performance of Mariana Pineda she is waiting to enter takes place in the background or off-stage.
The result is the distillation of a human experience, Xirgu's journey from bitterly clouded regret to understanding and acceptance. Though iconic martyrs, Pineda and Lorca acted not from political ambitions but from love. Rather than betraying their political action, Xirgu's life has kept that love alive.