Osvaldo Golijov
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Ainadamar (2003): Reviews
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From: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Pierre Ruhe)

Fest lets ASO showcase hot composer Golijov

Since its Massachusetts premiere in 2003, Osvaldo Golijov's opera "Ainadamar" has been polished and tightened with each new production. The final edits were captured in November by a prestigious German recording label, after rapturously received performances in Symphony Hall with the ASO and a stage full of guest musicians.

This week, the ASO makes its debut at the Ojai Festival in Southern California with "Ainadamar." The new CD gives everyone a chance to hear this music of dark beauty and rare authority for themselves.

Golijov, 45, has become a hot property, a living icon in an art form that relies almost exclusively on long-dead masters and historic, culturally inaccessible references. For the ASO, riding — and helping power — Golijov's cresting wave, this CD is part of the multiyear Golijov Project to survey many of the composer's large scores. A second Golijov disc is due out in fall.

A native of Argentina, raised in an Orthodox Jewish family and educated in Israel and the United States, Golijov has realigned the classical-music world with a highly infectious blending of his own personal history, where Latin American flamencos and tangos and Yiddish cantorial wails echo off the familiar gestures and harmonic structures of the European classical tradition.

"Ainadamar," with a libretto by David Henry Hwang, is Golijov's most gripping and durable work to date. There's not much plot, but the action centers on the murder of poet Federico Garcia Lorca by fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Lorca's demise — which holds implications for the power of art and love, for personal and intellectual liberty and for the fragility of humane society — is framed by the memories of aging actress Margarita Xirgu, Lorca's friend and muse, who keeps his art alive by performing his plays while in exile in South America.

Throughout the fast-flowing opera, Golijov's genius ripples and roils, with the ASO augmented by flamenco guitarists and percussionists — creating a sound world at once familiar, enticing and deeply unsettling. Castanets, for example, the most seductive and playful of Spanish and Gypsy dance instruments, find a sinister new voice as the rat-a-tat-tat of a machine gun. An electronic gunshot drops and ricochets until it, too, takes on a flamenco beat.

As Margarita, Dawn Upshaw is the star in every regard, and Golijov has written his most soaring and goosebump-inducing melodies for her. Lorca, a "trouser" role, is sung with suave, androgynous appeal by Kelley O'Connor, although one suspects that a song like "Desde mi ventata" ("From my window") holds emotions that a more intense and full-voiced mezzo could explore. Jessica Rivera plays Margarita's student, Nuria, and she's the lightest voice in the opera's rapturous concluding trio.

In the Symphony Hall performances, the role of Lorca's arresting officer (and executioner) was sung by a local tenor who shrieked bloodcurdling accusations. He was a key element of the plot, making Lorca the victim of one hateful man with a pistol in a wicked, chaotic time.

On CD, Golijov's message is more bleak. The officer has been replaced by improvising Spanish flamenco singer Jesus Montoya — an elegant, fantastical, charismatic vocalist — who becomes the Spanish archetype, the voice of Spain itself. Lorca is now the victim of "society" in a more generalized way, his blood a few more drops in the red river of Spanish history.

This change is at odds with Margarita's specific, anguished memories and makes "Ainadamar" more of a meditation (or a dramatic oratorio) than a character-centered opera requiring a fully staged production. Still, the work is more than a one-off piece of art. It's Golijov's masterpiece, destined to be among the great musical achievements of our time.

[Grade: A]

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