From: The New York Times (Anthony Tommasini)|
Seeing Life as Passion Play, in García Lorca's Shadow
When the history of Osvaldo Golijov's "Ainadamar" is written, the opera's 2003 premiere at the Tanglewood Music Center may be considered just a workshop along the way. At the time Mr. Golijov admitted to having rushed to finish the score at the last minute. Though his memory play of an opera had haunting aspects to it, whole stretches of the music seemed padded, lacking in urgency.
After that premiere, Mr. Golijov recruited the director Peter Sellars into the project and, together with his librettist, the playwright David Henry Hwang, revised the work considerably. That version was presented at the Santa Fe Opera last summer and, directed by Mr. Sellars, opened in the Rose Theater of the Jazz at Lincoln Center complex on Sunday afternoon. The opera has gained much dramatic impact. Though I still have reservations about this 80-minute, one-act work, the music now seems more precisely and tellingly rendered, with many ingenious strokes and startling details.
"Ainadamar" ("Fountain of Tears"), performed in Spanish, is the first offering in Lincoln Center's major festival of Mr. Golijov's work. It tells the story of the actress Margarita Xirgu, who on the last day of her life, in 1969, looks back some 40 years to the days when she created the title role in Federico García Lorca's play "Mariana Pineda" and entered into a life-transforming friendship with García Lorca, a champion of the Spanish republicans who was executed by Franco's soldiers in 1936.
When we meet her, Margarita is living in Uruguay and teaching theater, trying to keep García Lorca's art and principles alive. The soprano Dawn Upshaw portrays Margarita, singing the luxuriously lyrical and sometimes tormented vocal lines with beguiling beauty while inhabiting the character with an emotional vulnerability so real that during her moment of private agony you almost want to avert your eyes. It was an inexplicably powerful idea to make García Lorca a trouser role, here sung by the mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Conner, who gives a vocally impassioned and daring portrayal. The third major role is Nuria, Margarita's most devoted student, movingly performed by the vocally luminous young soprano Jessica Rivera.
As in other major works, Mr. Golijov unabashedly embraces feeling, melody and richly tonal harmonic writing. He skillfully finds common ground in disparate folk music traditions, especially Latin American and Jewish. The voices and instruments are filtered through subtle electronic resources. Taped elements run through the score, like the arresting opening segment that terrifyingly merges the sounds of gurgling waters and galloping horses. There is also a stunning climatic episode when Mr. Golijov turns the repeated sounds of rifle shots into a pummeling rhythmic fugue as García Lorca and two compatriots are executed.
There are other arresting musical passages, like the wistful aria that García Lorca first sings with its sultry melody, its gentle accompaniment in a comforting three-four meter, and sighing counter-voices in the orchestra. In the gruesome scene in which García Lorca is forced by Franco's thugs to confess his "crimes," there is a mystical passage, like some eerie chorale with sweetly tonal yet curiously disorienting tonal chords, elaborate glissandos in the strings and undulant marimba riffs in the background. And for all it tragic poignancy, the final trio for three female leads has a Straussian lushness, if you imagine Strauss as a latter-day Sephardic Jew.
Yet even in this final version there are passages that seem like filler: long film-scorish spans of moody, flamenco-tinged music over droning pedal tones, with melodic lines that make too much of prolonging the half-step resolution of the tune into the tonic tone.
Mr. Sellars's production is affectingly simple. The set by Gronk is like some kaleidoscopic painted wall with hints of scenes from García Lorca's life, abstract images and protest art. The choristers, who portray actresses in Margarita's studio, move with choreographic elegance as they sing. Miguel Harth-Bedoya conducts a vividly colorful performance, allowing the music its ruminative pace, yet highlighting the myriad inner details that lend "Ainadamar," in this revised version, its newfound intensity.