Ainadamar - CBSO/Spano - Barbican, 13 April 2008
Osvaldo Golijov has been criticised for the way he mixes folk and classical styles, but this I found was the greatest strength of this Ainadamar. Cante jondo is grafted on unadulterated, but this serves a specific dramatic purpose, and other musical influences - Spanish, Arabic, Jewish, gypsy - are more seamlessly melded.
The most effective singer on stage was the only non-classical one, Jesús Montoya, his open-throated ululations penetrating to the soul. Guitars and percussion lent a thrilling, vital energy to the music. Even the classical singers, the great Dawn Upshaw at their centre, the darkly magnificent Kelley O'Connor as Lorca, had an emotional honesty and direct appeal you rarely find in conventional opera. The singers' microphones were no barrier either.
The real problem with Ainamadar is not the style, but the structure. Arrange the notes any way you will, it's not an opera. An opera tells a story; Ainadamar simply wallows in unfocussed reminiscence. The programme notes of the original 2003 version that 'the dramatic effect was at times diffuse' -- the reason for extensive revisions, resulting in the version performed tonight. But the diffuseness remains.
The work is constructed around three memories or 'images' of the dying actress, Maria Xirgu, as she thinks about her relationship with Lorca and how she might have saved him from murder by Falangists many years ago. Osvaldo Golijov said in an interview just before the show that the the great thing about opera was that you could spread a minute's real-life experience out into an eighty minute performance. I'm more inclined to think it would work better the other way round. This was not a drama, but more like that jumble of confused dreams/recollections you can have just before dropping off to sleep.
It's further compromised by the style of the libretto - dreamy sub-Lorca poetic snatches. There are sound reasons for echoing Lorca's style in an opera about his life - but wouldn't something taut like La casa de Bernarda Alba have been a better model than the verse? The music can do nothing more than drift along with the text.
Although this wasn't fully staged - the singers just strolled around an atmospherically-lit patch at the front - I don't think that made any real difference. Golijov clearly has a talent and a unique voice. It's a shame it's sprayed around so haphazardly in Ainamadar.
Composer grapples diva:
and in for the kill: