Osvaldo Golijov
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Ainadamar (2003): Reviews
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From: Boston Globe (Richard Dyer)

Recording liberates Golijov's 'Ainadamar'
The role of Margarita calls for 'Dawn Upshaw' qualities, especially radiant soft high notes at the end of the opera.

Osvaldo Golijov is now the most famous and successful composer of his generation. And Deutsche Grammophon has embarked on an ambitious project to record his major works. "Ayre," a song-cycle for soprano and chamber ensemble, was released in September, and his opera "Ainadamar" recently appeared, the first of two all-Golijov discs to feature the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra under Robert Spano.

The recording represents another stage in the development of the opera, which was commissioned by the Tanglewood Music Center and premiered there in 2003. "Ainadamar" felt like a work-in-progress then; the ink was barely dry on some pages, and the stage production was on an opera-workshop level. Golijov and librettist David Henry Hwang made major revisions, many at the suggestion of director Peter Sellars.

Now Golijov's work on the opera is presumably finished. But it will take time to discover what's in it: Different productions and different singers will bring out different dimensions of the piece.

The recording may hasten the process. It liberates the opera from its productions; listeners can experience the music in the theater of imagination. And the recording may spur new stagings and attract new singers to the principal parts: the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and his muse, the actress Margarita Xirgu.

The actress's death in Uruguay is the frame for the opera. In 1969 — 33 years after Lorca was executed by facists near Ainadamar outside Granada — Xirgu is about to go onstage in "Mariana Pineda," Lorca's play about a 19th-century political martyr from Granada. She recalls her meeting with Lorca, their artistic triumphs, her vain attempt to lure him to Cuba and safety (the Cuba sequence is a seductive recent addition to the score). As she dies, Xirgu is overwhelmed with remorse that she was unable to save the poet. But Xirgu's protegee Nuria will go on as Mariana, and Lorca's vision of human freedom, transmitted through art, will endure...

Golijov's music incorporates the ancient gestures and harmonies of Spanish folk music and its mingled Christian, Arab, and Jewish heritage with contemporary sophistication. It also responds to the various commercial adaptations of those folk idioms.

Golijov has the gift of creating memorable melody, of propelling events forward through pulsing and intricately layered rhythms. He can create an atmosphere, a color, a tinta, to use Verdi's word. The work has an airless, dreamlike, hallucinatory quality.

If there is a liability, it is that Golijov relies too much on repeated patterns; the opera lasts about 75 minutes, but without the repetition, it would probably last less than an hour. And his occasional reliance on electronics is worrying; nothing dates faster than technology.

Also, generations of operatic composers made it their business to make sure the singers could deliver text and meaning over the orchestra. John Adams's "Nixon in China" was the first major opera to be written for miked singers, and with that decision something essential was lost: the projection of the unamplified voice. Moreover, microphones respond to operatic amplitude of tone by erasing the words. Part of the oppressive atmosphere of "Ainadamar" comes from the failure of the sumptuous orchestration to lighten up, turn transparent; it never needs to.

Spano leads the Atlanta Symphony, the women of the Atlanta Symphony Chorus, and the cast in an accurate, intense, and vivid performance. The deep mezzo of Kelley O'Connor is memorable as Lorca, and Jessica Rivera's clear, light soprano sounds lovely as Nuria. Their voices blend beautifully with that of soprano Dawn Upshaw as Margarita in an ecstatic final trio reminiscent of the glorious one in Strauss's "Der Rosenkavalier."

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