AAt the turn of the millennium, Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov was one of the biggest names in contemporary classical music; his eclectic mix of influences—everything from klezmer to Latin dance beats and electronica—give his music a popular appeal unheard of for most living composers. But it has been more than a decade since he produced anything of note, his creativity largely silenced by personal issues, but the popularity of these early works remains.
His opera Ainadamar dates from Golijov’s most successful period, although it only now received its first British staging almost two decades later. The fact that this Scottish opera production created in conjunction with Opera Ventures is also a co-production with the Welsh National Opera, Detroit Opera and Metropolitan Opera is testament to the enduring popularity of his work.
Ainadamar (“fountain of tears”) refers to an ancient well outside Granada where the poet Federico García Lorca is said to have been executed by fascist forces at the start of the Spanish Civil War. This is not a simple account of the last day of Lorca’s life; rather Golijov and his librettist David Henry Hwang present the poet through a triptych of scenes in which his muse, actress Margarita Xirgu (Lauren Fagan) reminisces about his relationship with Lorca (Samantha Hankey) to his protege Nuria (Julieth Lozano) .
Golijov’s score is a collage of influences, shifting fluidly from flamenco and electronic music to the classical language of 19th century opera, all infused with the vibrant musical color of Spain, skillfully captured by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and conductor Stuart Stratford. In this production, the musical language finds a mirror in Deborah Colker’s striking direction. Dance beats are at the heart of Ainadamar, so having a director who is also a choreographer makes sense on many levels. The image of the fountain is at the heart of Jon Bausor’s decor; it is a screen on which images are projected and a veil that can be drawn over the action that takes place there.
Although Lorca is the central figure in the narrative, Golijov’s music is a celebration of the feminine, with the three central roles performed as female voices. Male voices are widely associated with nationalist guards embodying violence and oppression. Golijov takes this idea further by transfiguring the execution of Lorca into a crucifixion, with Xirgu the figure of the Madonna of the Last Days. It feels like an unnecessary imposition on the job, something that Colker’s clever directing doesn’t entirely dispel.