Theatre Royal, Glasgow
This is absolute fresh territory for Scottish Opera. Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar: the Fountain of Tears may claim itself an opera, and by literal definition it is, but that is perhaps to diminish the uniqueness with which it eschews idiomatic purity, embracing most notably the hypnotic charisma of Spanish flamenco dancing, the laid-back sensuality of Latin American rumba, the feral intensity of authentic flamenco singing, and an all-pervading theatrical earthiness that could easily bag Ainadamar legitimacy on the Broadway stage.
I doubt if anyone witnessing the opening night of its UK stage premiere in Glasgow, the first directorial venture into opera by Brazilian-born choreographer Deborah Colker, cared a jot. For this is, purely and simply, genuine entertainment, heavy going in its emotional reminiscences on the life and untimely execution during the 1930s’ Spanish civil war of poet and playwright Federico Garciá Lorca (expressed through the lens of those who adored him), but realised here – the Argentine composer himself was present in the audience – with such ardent physical fluidity, unceasing visual stimulation and musical intoxication as to signal the ecstasy and optimism central to Lorca’s legacy.
Colker is a dynamic presence, amusingly witnessed in her animated opening night curtain call appearance. She also, understandably, places the importance of movement foremost on her agenda, materialising here in an uninterrupted hour-plus piece that flows with bewitching organic unity. A cast of disparate parts – key characters, a genuine flamenco singer (Alfredo Tejada as the Falangist officer Ruiz Alonso), flamenco dancers and supporting ensemble – come together under her influence as one swaying mass, like underwater reeds dancing to the rhythm of the tide.
That, in itself, serves to gel the musical extremes at play in Golijov’s untamed score. What begins as a primeval-sounding orchestral prelude and mournful ballad, courses variously through hi-octane foot-stomping flamenco, rapt verismo-style eulogies, a steamily-enacted Cuban excursion (Margarita tried to lure Lorca to safety there), and those spine-tingling interjections by Tejada of genuine Andalusian cante. Under music director Stuart Stratford, a virile Scottish Opera Orchestra, spiced with dazzling onstage Spanish guitar (Ian Watt) and traditional cajón (percussionist Stuart Semple), are the chief energisers in this riveting presentation.
Colker’s creative team are wholly on message. Jon Bausor’s ever-morphing stage design simple and effective, soaked in the emotive darkness of Paul Keogan’s shadowy lighting, and enlivened by well-integrated video and sound production from Tal Rosner and Cameron Crosby respectively.
It’s a credit to this cast that the key characters achieve a powerful balance between prominence and coalescence. As Margarita Xirgu – Lorca’s actress of choice, close friend and key protagonist in this theatrical lament – Lauren Fagan counters reverential passion with glowing sincerity. As Lorca, a role scored unexpectedly but effectively for female voice, mezzo-soprano Samantha Hankey argues convincingly a warm and affectionate slant on the volatile poet. Julieth Lozano’s innocent portrayal of Nuria, the student of Margarita destined to carry on Lorca’s legacy, is a potent symbol of truth and hope.
There’s no denying that Ainadamar, first performed in 2003 in Massachusetts and revised for a Santa Fe production in 2005, has minor questionable traits: the last ten minutes or so, for instance, that seem to unnecessarily prolong the final denouement. But this is a grand achievement for Scottish Opera in its 60th anniversary season, a reminder of the bold principles that governed its founding in 1962.
Further performances in Glasgow (26 Oct & 5 Nov); and at Edinburgh Festival Theatre (8, 10 & 12 Nov)
Ainadamar is produced by Scottish Opera in collaboration with Opera Ventures and co-producers Detroit Opera, The Metropolitan Opera and Welsh National Opera
Photo credit: James Glossop