BWW Reviews: Opera Philadelphia Presents Golijov's AINADAMAR
AINADAMAR is the name of the location where Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca was notoriously executed in 1936. It also translates as "fountain of tears", Arabic recalling the Moorish period of Spain's history, highly appropriate for the event. Others may have reflected that "fountain of tears" was how they've felt about Osvaldo Golijov's one-act opera of Lorca's assassination. If they have (and the history of the opera's reviews since its Tanglewood debut is varied), it should, at least in Philadelphia, not be for the music.
Golijov has been questioned, lambasted, and otherwise piqued over the score to ANADAMAR, partly because it's felt to be not altogether Spanish but a multi-ethnic hodgepodge, with moments of Arabic music, Ladino (Sephardic-Jewish) music, and other elements. To which, as a Gilbert and Sullivan character might respond, "pish-tosh." Although patrons leaving Opera Philadelphia's production have been heard questioning the music, there is a reason that the recording was a chart-smasher for classical albums when it was released - the music of Spain is far more than flamenco alone, and Arabic and Ladino melody are part of that mix, along with the flamenco, indigenous folk, and other strains that Golijov captures neatly in the mix. If one goes for no other reason to the Academy of Music, let it be to hear conductor Corrado Rovaris present the eighty minutes of music that this opera gives us, every moment of which is like bathing oneself in the enveloping presence of Spanish history.
Go also, if you will, for a splendidly executed trouser role by mezzo Marina Pardo singing Lorca, bringing depth and range to the part. But it's a shock to see her, or any others of the performers, wearing head microphones - this is not why one attends or listens to opera. Maria Hinojosa Montenegro as Margarita Xirgo, even with amplification, brings fine acting but what feels like insufficient vocal power to the role. One longs to hear the originator, Dawn Upshaw, bringing her vocal presence to the part.
The staging is partly set, partly projection framing the stage as a second, meaningful, proscenium detailing the Spanish Civil War around the characters. It's an interesting use that actually illustrates that projection, properly used, does have a place in modern theatre and opera, though it is sometimes distracting, especially when the dancers are on stage. Just as early French opera stopped to insert ballets, so does action here more often stop for dance than add to the scene through dance movement. And the flamenco is more heard from the orchestra than seen on the stage, despite a lovely moment when Pardo, as Lorca, uses Lorca's coat as a bullfighter's cape in a moment that could have used a touch of Mexican paso doble dance staging. Director Luis de Tavira and choreographer Stella Arauzo should contemplate their dance incorporation carefully - the dance is certainly delightful, but does it add or detract from the story?