Osvaldo Golijov
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Ainadamar (2003): Reviews
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From: Detroit Free Press (Mark Stryker)

An Opera for the Ages
Osvaldo Golijov's rhythmic 'Ainadamar' captures the heart and soul of Spain

No composer has made a bigger recent splash than Osvaldo Golijov (GO-lee-off). In less than six years, he has managed to earn the nearly universal respect of critics and the kind of adulation from audiences usually reserved for long-dead Europeans in the canon.

Why the fuss? Because Golijov, born in 1960 in Argentina to parents of Eastern European Jewish stock, writes brilliantly colored, rhythmically vibrant and melodically swooning music that swallows whole the vernacular traditions of his heritage — flamenco, klezmer, Spanish, Sephardic and Arabic idioms and more — all without mortgaging the sweep of his classical training and, remarkably, without falling prey to the postmodern sin of pastiche.

At 45, Golijov is on a hot streak that began with his celebrated "St. Mark Passion" (2000) and led to a festival of his music, including performances of his one-act opera "Ainadamar" in February at Lincoln Center in New York. With a libretto by David Henry Hwang, the opera tells the story of Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu, who late in her life recalls the heady days 40 years earlier when she collaborated with Spanish playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who was executed by fascists during the Spanish civil war. ("Ainadamar" translates to "fountain of tears" in Arabic).

The opera floats in a haze of memory as Margarita meditates on Lorca's revolutionary spirit, his tragic fate and his legacy as a martyr for political and personal freedom. The opera opens with primordial taped sounds of water and the hoofbeat of horses, which morph into striking flamenco passages whose spirit infuses the score.

The melodies shiver with erotic intervals and scales; bittersweet half-steps weep with sun-drenched nostalgia and the soul of Spain. Arias of languid beauty are interrupted by exuberant outbursts of rhythm, orchestral color and violence. The inventive orchestration finds room for the improvisatory wail of an authentic flamenco singer, guitars and a heart-stopping passage of rhythmically layered gunshots.

The opera had its premiere at Tanglewood in 2003 and was revised for performances in Santa Fe last year. The recording documents the latest version, with many veterans from previous productions. Soprano Dawn Upshaw, at ease with sumptuous melodic lines and folk idioms, gives a ravishing and focused portrayal of Margarita. In the trouser role of Lorca, mezzo Kelley O'Connor sings with an intense lyricism. As Margarita's student Nuria, soprano Jessica Rivera makes a fine impression. Robert Spano conducts with authority.

Above all, this is an opera that deserves a place in the repertory — immediately.

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