Osvaldo Golijov
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Ainadamar (2003): Reviews
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From: San Diego Magazine (David Gregson)

Ravishing Chamber Opera at Disney Hall

One night, one opportunity to hear a ravishing new work. And no recording to help us remember it by! I hope those little microphones I could see sticking out here and there mean a CD of Ainadamar someday. Osvaldo Golijov's new chamber opera deserves the largest possible audience, and it's a work I imagine one could enjoy listening to without necessarily having seen it in the theater first.

The subject is an unexpected one: A sort of "love affair" between García Lorca and the actress Margarita Xirgu before her performance in Lorca's play Mariana Pineda just at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War.

Born in Fuente Vaqueros, Granada, 5 June 1898, Federico García Lorca was destined to become one of Spain's greatest poets and playwrights. Today his name is known all over the world — perhaps more as a martyred intellectual than as an artist. On 19th August, 1936, four men — two bullfighters, a schoolmaster and Lorca — were captured by Franco's fascist soldiers and murdered near the Sierra Nevada Mountains where their bodies were unceremoniously dumped into an unmarked grave. Subsequently Lorca's writings were banned and burned, his name was officially erased from memory — only to transform the poet into an international icon for political oppression.

Lorca's tragic death is at the heart of composer Golijov's Ainadamar, which received its West Coast premiere Sunday, February 29, in Walt Disney Concert Hall as part of the Los Angeles Philharmonic's Green Umbrella new music series. Associate Conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya led a pared down Philharmonic ensemble in a hauntingly memorable semi-staged production featuring soprano Dawn Upshaw as Margarita Xirgu/Mariana Pineda; mezzo-soprano Kelly O'Connor as Lorca; soprano Amanada Forsythe as a young Margarita; and the Vocal Fellows of the Tanglewood Music Center. Commissioned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra for Tanglewood, the work received its first performance there in August of last year. An original English libretto by playwright David Henry Hwang has been translated into Spanish by the composer himself.

"Ainadamar," an Arabic word for "Fountain of Tears," is the name of an actual fountain as well as a metaphor for the fragmented action of a poetic narrative that takes place simultaneously in three time periods (1920s, '30s and '60s) and in two nations, Spain and Uruguay. In a nutshell, as a youth Lorca is smitten by the actress Margarita Xirgu, writes a politicized play for her, and is later killed. Thirty years later as Margarita is acting Mariana Pineda once more in Uruguay, she reflects on her love for Lorca as a man, as an artist, and as the fire for the torch of liberty she must carry.

Drawing broadly on Spanish folk elements, Golojov's 70-minute long work is colorfully scored for a largish chamber orchestra enriched by pre-recorded sounds of gunshots, babbling waters, and horse hooves. In Disney Hall, director Chay Yew staged the events on a square platform beneath the organ loft where a brief cyclorama represented Lorca's haunted and haunting eyes...

...gorgeous performances from everyone involved, especially the unknown newcomer Kelly O'Connor — a gifted artist with a surprising resemblance to the poet Lorca himself. This is one of several reasons the composer chose her for the role.

Musically satisfying, highly involving, emotionally potent, this was an exceptional event to mark the start of the important Green Umbrella series in 2004. My only reservation is that the choreographed movements appeared less than inspired and the lighting was not especially polished. The presence of director Peter Sellars in the audience suggests that plans for staging this work in some other fashion may be in the air, although a distinguished colleague of mine dreads such a thought. I think it might be interesting.

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