New opera the highlight of Wellington's festival

Federico Garcia Lorca and Margarita Xirgu

Music, Osvaldo Golijov. Libretto, David Henry Hwang
Director, Sara Brodie
Michael Fowler Centre
New Zealand Festival
March 2

Ainadamar is an account of the death of the Spanish playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, murdered by the fascists during the Spanish Civil War because, as one of the protagonists says, Lorca's  pen was more powerful than the force of the gun.

The playwright's life and death are told in a series of flashbacks by his former lover, Margarita Xirga, to her student Nuria while living in exile in Uruguay. Lorca's life is also linked to that of the 19th century revolutionary martyr, Mariana Pineda (about whom he himself wrote an opera).

The semi staged production featured three leads - Jessica Rivera (Margarita Xirgu), Kelley O'Connor (Lorca) and Leanne Kenneally (Nuria). They were accompanied by a chorus of black-clad women who stood before screens that featured projected images, texts and colours.

The opera deals with the interface between the personal and the political, where the individual acknowledges the importance of self sacrifice over personal salvation, where love of freedom needs be stronger than the love of another.

The great strength of the opera is Osvaldo Golijov's dazzling musical score creating an expressive landscape and capturing a dramatic moment in history.

From the opening trumpet calls, the thundering hooves of horses, the clacking of castanets and the sounds of water flowing (Ainadamar means fountain of tears), the soundscape and music accompanying the singing provides  insistent, sensuous, Spanish sounds and rhythms. 

Jessica Rivera's lyrical singing and expressive acting provided a moving account of Xirgu's love of Lorca. Her aria “I want to tear out my eyes” telling of her failure to save him was a tragic and terrifying display, expressing passion and grief.

Kelley O'Connor singing the part of Lorca was in the trouser role tradition  of the Count in  Der Rosenkavalier and Frank in Ben Frost's recent opera of the Wasp Factory. Her singing of “From My window” was an eloquent expression of love, combining  a Mozartian sonority with the anguish of a Puccini role, while her singing of “I want to sing among the explosions” set against a backdrop of violence was a haunting  evocation of death.

Leanne Kenneally's Nuria was a counterpoint to Riveria's heartfelt expressions with a voice that was more controlled and soothing but in the latter part of the opera became more powerful and piercing as though taking on the memories of Xirgu's passion.

The women sang several intense and moving trios about love, death and sacrifice. 

Singing the part of Lorca's murderer, Ruis Alonso, Jesus Montoya gave a chilling performance with his repeated refrain of “Bring him to me” echoing like the words of a flamenco caller.

The chorus gave  depth to the production, providing a visual symbol of the populace as well as commenting on the pain and suffering of both the people and the main characters.

Sara Brodie's astute control of the leads and chorus, along with Tim Gruchy's sparse set and  projected visuals, added to the overall dramatic atmosphere of the work.

Under conductor Miguel Harth-Bedoya the NZSO brought out the rich tones of Golijov's melodic music, which combined seamlessly with the  electronic and other recorded elements such as the dramatic use of gunshots in the closing sequence of the opera.

John Daly-Peoples attended the New Zealand Festival thanks to The New Zealand Festival and Quality Hotels

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