Ainadamar at the Opéra de Montréal: power and efficiency

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Ainadamar at Opé ;ra de Montréal: power and efficiency

Pier-Olivier Pinard In Ainadamar, Golijov and his librettist, David Henry Hwang, transcend historical facts (the rise of fascism in Spain and the death of García Lorca) to show through the central figure Lorca's favorite actress, Margarita Xirgu, that art and culture are immortal if they manage to be transmitted.

With Ainadamar, by the Argentinian Osvaldo Golijov, at the Théâtre Maisonneuve, the Opéra de Montréal puts to its credit a powerful and effective performance of one of the eminent lyrical works of the 21st century.

It's no wonder that Ainadamar, opera of 2003, revised in the wake (2005), returns to the front of the stage. The work is as strong as it is symbolic in various ways.

Granada's “Fountain of Tears” (Ainadamar) is at the heart of many intertwined destinies. Culturally, Granada is in history a crossroads of Christian, Jewish and Muslim civilizations. In the 20th century, Federico García Lorca was executed there in 1936 by fascist militiamen. It is then a voice that we want to silence for many reasons, in particular what he writes and represents, as the vociferous militiaman Ramon Ruiz Alonso, perfectly personified by Alfredo Tejada. The violent imprecations of the militiaman are written in a musical style reminiscent of the Arab-Muslim soil of Andalusia.

The fruits of experience

In Ainadamar, Golijov and his librettist, David Henry Hwang, transcend historical facts (the rise of fascism in Spain and the death of García Lorca) to show, through the central figure of Lorca's favorite actress, Margarita Xirgu, that art and culture are immortal if they manage to transmit themselves.

Ainadamar is this opera of the infinite wheel of history: a music stirring in a thousand-year-old tradition and integrating flamenco as a mode of expression (magnificent integration of dance into the show), but also concrete sounds of life. His booklet organized in flashbacksshows us the uplifting virtues of culture; Lorca writing about the destiny of Mariana Pineda, who precedes him, then Margarita Xirgu who keeps Lorca alive after his death and transmits his flame to his disciple Nuria.

The director, Brian Staufenbiel, adds a relevant layer, because if young girls come to grab the hands of executed women and bring them back to life in another decade, one can imagine that they too will, one day, be the expiatory victims of totalitarianism. It's the fatal wheel of history: Argentina 1970s, Iran 2022-2023…

The big winners of the show are indeed Brian Staufenbiel and chef Nicole Payment, who have already come together for Ainadamarin San Francisco in 2013. This familiarity and anteriority serve them well. The mastery of the work by Nicole Payment and her performance of the show are impressive. As for Staufenbiel, he takes up the main challenge by managing to clarify the muddle of the libretto as to periods and flashbacks. It sticks to a clear narration and does not go into too much symbolism on the theme of “Lorca universal martyr of freedom of expression”. The orange saturation of the final scene (with the prayer to the Virgin) corresponds to the wishes of the composer.

The flats

The set is very well held by Emily Dorn (Margarita Xirgu), Elizabeth Polese (Nuria), Alfredo Tejada and the always impeccable Alain Coulombe. Difficult to get into a real vocal criticism because of the amplification of the voices.

Indeed, the show has two major flaws. Maisonneuve being a dry and ungrateful theater, where the voices leave in the hangers, it is necessary to amplify. Now this amplification, which should simply “support” the voices, becomes a quasi-cabaret amplification. This destroys the sound reports since Ainadamaris built on the juxtaposition between acoustics (orchestra and voice) and electronics (concrete sounds). The two mingle when the bursts of gunfire become flamenco rhythms for example. If the voices are so amplified, it destroys the “nature of the sounds”. But from this point of view, it is true that Ainadamar is a headache. In Montreal, the orchestra sometimes struggles to do well from the pit. In absolute terms, it would almost be necessary to conceive of a Ainadamar show where the orchestra would be on stage…

The other downside is Luigi Schifano, a countertenor, as Federico García Lorca, while Golijov wanted a transvestite mezzo. And we understand the composer. According to Nicole Paiement, Golijov allows substitution, but that takes a lot away, especially when the singer, like Schifano, has such a fragile vocal drive when he descends below the mezzo-forte. There is a warmth, an emotion in a mezzo voice that you cannot find here.

The recourse to cross-dressing here is not so much a sexual ambiguity as an anchoring to the earth (Erda in Wagner's tetralogy); a countertenor timbre (and Schifano sings well when he sings loud) cannot convey that. Golijov does nothing by chance. But, despite the downsides, it's worth going to meet the crucible of his inspiration this week in Montreal.


Opera by Osvaldo Golijov to a libretto by David Henry Hwang. Emily Dorn (Margarita Xirgu), Luigi Schifano (Federico García Lorca), Elizabeth Polese (Nuria), Alfredo Tejada (Ramon Ruiz Alonso), Alain Coulombe (José Tripaldi), Jaime Sandoval (torero), Geoffrey Schellenberg (schoolteacher) . Montreal Opera Chorus, Montreal Symphony Orchestra, Nicole Payment. Director: Brian Staufenbiel. Sets: Brian Staufenbiel and Pierre Massoud. Costumes: Dominique Guindon. Lighting: Claude Accolas. Video: David Murakami. Choreography: Rocio Vadillo. Théâtre Maisonneuve at Place des Arts, March 18, 2023. Reruns on March 21 and 23 at 7:30 p.m., and March 26 at 2 p.m.