Ainadamar, Welsh National Opera, Bristol Hippodrome

MENTION the name Federico Garcia Lorca, and whether it be in connection with his work as a writer, poet , artist, his personal or political life, or even his death and you will be courting controversy. He is in many ways the original “Marmite” playwright, considered by many as a true genius and regarded as a boring introvert by others.

As for his death – was he assassinated by right wing political opponents, not for what he had done, but for the influence he could have on the conflict to come in the Spanish Civil War, or was he murdered for much more personal reasons.

A leader in the symbolism, futurism, and surrealism movements which were sweeping through Spain in the 1920s and 30s, friend of film-maker Luis Brunel and artist Salvador Dali, Lorca crowded an enormous amount into his short 38-year life.

Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov and American librettist David Henry Hwang decided to concentrate on the few fatal years leading up to Lorca’s assassination, as told by Margarita Xirgu, the actress who brought Lorca’s first theatrical heroine, Granadine martyr Mariana Pineda, to life on stage. Argentinian soprano Jaquelina Livieri, faced with the problem of establishing a woman full of guilt at being unable to convince her dear friend Lorca to abandon Spain and join her in the safety of South America, showed acting ability to match her vocal powers.

Whether combining with mezzo soprano Hanna Hipp, stylishly playing the trouser role of Federico Garcia Lorca, or talking with her young pupil Nuria, selflessly underplayed by Julieth Lozano Rolong, Livieri brought out all the agony of a woman haunted by the death of a great talent that she felt was in in her power to save.

Although the production did not completely produce the suffocating intensity of Lorca’s Blood Wedding or The House of Bernardo Alba, the combined efforts of director Deborah Colker, set, lighting, sound and projection designers Jon Bausor, Paul Keogan, Cameron Crosby and Tal Rosner, ensured that visually this was a fascinating presentation that fully matched the musical atmosphere.

Often when visual movement is introduced behind vocal output it becomes intrusive, but here, thanks to the skill of Flamenco choreographer Antonio Najarro and his dancers, it always added to the picture.

To say that the score, which contains no blockbusting arias, is difficult as it mixes traditional Spanish sounds with modern musical themes and long storytelling solo efforts, would be to greatly understate the challenges it poses. With conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren and the WNO orchestra in sparkling form providing support for soloists and the unobtrusive ensemble in equally good form, the soloists crossed every musical hurdle with the ease of a Cheltenham champion.

Just as Lorca’s work, life and death were often a cause for controversy, so this opera may divide opinion on its merits – but no-one can argue with the fact that it is a joy to see an opera by a living composer, one which provides an intense, fascinating picture of one of the 20th century’s most talented and influential writers.



Ainadamar is coming to Southampton Mayflower  on 22nd November.

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