Osvaldo Golijov
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Ainadamar (2003): Reviews
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From: Musicalamerica.com (George Loomis)

"Ainadamar," Revised and Revisited

SANTA FE -- Revisions to operas are a mixed blessing. Handel is thought to have harmed his operas when he reworked them for new singers; Verdi's changes are generally considered improvements, thought his early ideas are always interesting. Rarely do revisions reap benefits on a scale that they have for Osvaldo Golijov's first opera, "Ainadamar" ("The Fountain of Tears"), judging from having seen the work in its Tanglewood premiere two years ago and here at the Santa Fe Opera on Aug. 3 in its new version. Then, too, the quality of Peter Sellars' new production puts a more compelling face on the piece. Sellars is typically at his best when, as with Kaija Saariaho's "L'amour de loin," he focuses on illuminating a new work that catches his fancy rather than reinterpreting a classic. And catch his fancy is apparently what "Ainadamar" did, when he saw it in Los Angeles in something close to the original. As a result, he teamed up with Golijov and librettist David Henry Hwang to effect a thorough-going revision.

What once seemed episodic and disjointed now impresses as a bold break with narrative opera. Scenes succeed each other with a dreamlike flow yet have sufficient substance to be easily grasped. In the age of supertitles, opera-goers tend to neglect their homework; here it's helpful to know the work's premise in advance. The central event is the assassination of young Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca by fascists in the Spanish Civil War. But the opera looks back a century earlier to another political assassination, that of the revolutionary Mariana Pineda, whom Lorca wrote a play about. It is told from the perspective of aging actress Margarita Zirgu, who in her prime was a close colleague of Lorca and played Mariana on the stage.

In the original version, there were two different singers for the young and older Margarita; here Golijov wisely avoids that cumbersome casting by transferring young Margarita's function to her student Nuria, an avid and eager listener. He also better fleshes out Lorca's profile. In one especially compelling new scene, Lorca and Margarita envision a life in Havana; ultimately, and much to Margarita's distress, Lorca chooses to remain in Spain. Sellars heightens the drama by positioning the two at opposite sides of the stage, pressed up against the multi-colored mural-set by painter/designer Gronk (he goes by one name only). Gronk's set, as lit by James F. Ingalls, is a little reminiscent of Picasso's "Guernica," but more abstract, and makes an ideal backdrop.

Sellars wisely refrains from drawing parallels to problems of contemporary America. It is enough that Gabriel Berry's costumes dress Lorca's murderers in modern camouflage.

What one thinks of "Ainadamar" will ultimately depend on how one responds to the pervasiveness of the flamenco idiom and the Latin rhythms in Golijov's music. He uses them unstintingly, but he treats the native elements imaginatively. Transitional interludes are especially well done.

Holdovers from the original include the prolonged rhythmic gunshots accompanying the execution of Lorca at Ainadamar (Granada's "fountain of tears") — interestingly handled by Sellars by having Lorca and the other two victims continuously rise back up, only to be cut down again — and the casting of Lorca as a mezzo-soprano, enabling some mellifluous trios for women's voices in the tradition of "Der Rosenkavalier." There is also an appealing mini-chorus of eight women.

Two veterans of the Tanglewood production return in the leading roles. Dawn Upshaw is outstanding as Xirgu, singing now with Mozartean purity, now with gut-wrenching power, and Kelley O'Connor, as Lorca, meets admirably the role's enhanced challenges. Nuria is the clear-voiced soprano Jessica Rivera, and Scott Tomlinson's deep bass is an asset as the confessor José Tripaldi. Miguel Harth-Bedoya's assured conducting keeps the all-important rhythms precise.

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