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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Rian Evans

Ainadamar review – a defiant and impassioned defence of freedom

Jaquelina Livieri as Margarita Xirgu and Hanna Hipp as Federico García Lorca in Ainadamar.
Tragedy and sacrifice … Jaquelina Livieri as Margarita Xirgu and Hanna Hipp as Federico García Lorca in Ainadamar. Photograph: Johan Persson

Poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was shot dead just one month into the Spanish civil war in 1936. His martyrdom is central to Osvaldo Golijov’s single-act opera Ainadamar, named for the place just outside Granada – also known as the Fountain of Tears – where Lorca and later thousands of others were murdered. And the work has contributed further to the mythologising of the man now recognised as one of Spain’s great writers. It is curious then to consider that it was only in a 2003 revision of the piece, two years after its premiere, that librettist David Henry Hwang and Golijov included Lorca as an actual character.

Welsh National Opera’s staging – a co-production with Opera Ventures, Scottish Opera, Detroit Opera and the Metropolitan Opera – is set in a circular space echoing that of Ainadamar’s fountain, and has both the feel of a pilgrimage and a passion play, evocative but laced with violence and the fierce energy of authenticity.

A strong performance by Jaquelina Livieri as Lorca’s acknowledged muse, Margarita Xirgu – the actress who portrayed the titular Mariana Pineda in his first successful play – helps sustain the complex weaving of the different historical threads. Pineda, garrotted in the 19th century for her revolutionary stance, was an inspiration for Lorca since childhood, and her self-sacrifice for the cause of freedom becomes a parallel to his unfolding tragedy. Telling the story in remembrance as a dying woman, determined that her personal mission should continue with her protegée Nuria (Julieth Lozano Rolong), Livieri makes palpable Xirgu’s anguish at failing to persuade Lorca to escape with her to Uruguay. This is the guilt of the survivor, but Xirgu’s devotion to the role of Pineda – carrying her symbolic flag of liberty and that of Lorca – perpetuates his values. A vision of Lorca – this trouser role taken by Hanna Hipp in resonant voice – returns by way of final benediction for Margarita.

‘A circular space echoing that of Ainadamar’s fountain’ … WNO’s production, directed by Deborah Colker.
‘A circular space echoing that of Ainadamar’s fountain’ … WNO’s production, directed by Deborah Colker. Photograph: Johan Persson

Director/choreographer Deborah Colker ensures that dance conditions the vibrant dynamic of this show: a solo dancer initially embodies the drama of flamenco, setting the tone both for the soloists and for WNO’s female chorus as Xirgu’s troupe, lithe, flamboyant and seductive. The obvious eroticism of the duet of the male dancers who ensnare Lorca means that his homosexuality – undoubtedly a factor in his assassination – is emphasised as much as his espousal of the principles of freedom. Golijov’s tapestry of Latin American, Andalusian, Moorish and Judaic influences, together with electronic sampling, is all vigorously – occasionally too vigorously – delivered by the WNO orchestra under the baton of Matthew Kofi Waldren. The score has uneven moments. It is decidedly maudlin in the scene prior to the executions but redeemed by the subsequent incorporation of the rhythm of the fatal fusillade of bullets into a pulsing motif, driving the music on to chilling effect. Overall, we see a company in very welcome defiant form.

• At the Wales Millennium Centre on 17 and 26 September, and touring until 22 November

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