Opera review: Ainadamar by Welsh National Opera, Wales Millennium Centre
As playwright and poet William Congreve observed in 1697, “music has charms to soothe the savage breast.” It can also comfort the troubled soul and, as research has shown, it has the power to significantly reduce physical pain.
Just hours before the opening night of this exciting production of Ainadamar, a modern operatic masterpiece about the life and assassination of Federico Garcia Lorca, I contrived to fall off my motorcycle, an aging Suzuki 600cc Bandit that I fondly refer to as The Mean Machine.
The accident resulted in skin being scraped from my left arm and elbow and bruising to my left buttock.
I was determined not to let this painful mishap prevent me from attending this much-anticipated performance of the opera by Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov.
It turned out that I made the right decision. The music did indeed soothe my savage breast and comfort my troubled soul. But as the curtain fell after just one hour and twenty minutes, I realised that the pain in my arm and buttock had simply melted away.
Like Congreve, playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, who trained as a classical pianist, had a deep appreciation of how music can heal and express feelings and emotions that cannot be spoken.
The surrealism and symbolism of Lorca’s poetry has a music of its own. This production of Ainadamar, beautifully and lovingly directed by Deborah Colker, has that poetry at its heart, exploring its depth and meaning and revealing unexpected insights into the opera.
Ainadamar (“fountain of tears”) refers to an ancient well outside Granada where Lorca, who was a socialist and homosexual, is thought to have been executed by fascist forces at the start of the Spanish Civil War.
This gripping and imaginative co-production by the WNO and its partners at Opera Ventures, Scottish Opera, Detroit Opera and The Metropolitan Opera, has an intensity which drives forward a narrative that is certainly not straightforward.
In many ways the opera, and this production in particular, has the structure and ambience of a Lorca poem with it fascinating imagery and shifting moods and colours.
The opera is split into three parts, or “images” by Golijov and his librettist David Henry Hwang.
The triptych of scenes looks at Lorca’s life and death through the memories of his muse, actor Margarita Xirgu who spent her career portraying Mariana Pineda in Lorca’s play of the same name.
In the style of “portrait opera,” each image centres on a central figure who represents freedom. The first is Mariana Pineda, the second is Lorca and the third is Margarita Xirgu.
The performances by a splendid cast were enthralling, particularly Jaquelina Livieri as Margarita Xirgu, and Hanna Hipp, as Lorca.
But it was the music, interpreted with urgency and flair by the WNO orchestra, conducted by Matthew Kofi Waldren, that gave that sense of healing and comfort.
The music painted the scenes with all the vibrant colours of Spain, moving from flamenco to electronic music, via the musical language of 19th Century opera. The rhythms moved the spirit, while the more reflective passages touched the heart.
The highly expressive flamenco dancing, both by individuals and the ensemble, was captivating, while the colourful costumes delighted the eye.
The creative team of designer Jon Bausor, lighting designer Paul Keogan and projection designer Tai Rosner brought the story to vivid life.
Not surprisingly, the guitar featured in some of the more contemplative passages.
In his poem The Guitar, Lorca, who was also a theatre director who I think would have admired this production, wrote: “The weeping of the guitar begins. Useless to silence it. It weeps for distant things.”
This production, while colourful and dynamic, also captured that melancholy spirit, seeming also to weep for distant things.
The next performances of Ainadamar will be at the Wales Millennium Centre on September 17 (4pm) and September 26 (7.30pm) before it goes on tour.
Find out more about the production and the tour here
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