Thursday, December 31, 2009


Another day, another word...

Federico García Lorca(5 June 1898 – 19 August 1936)

"Oh that my head were waters, and mine eyes a fountain of tears"
Jeremiah 9:1

The Sound of Wounded Freedom

by Desirée Mays
Ainadamar celebrates the lives of three extraordinary Spanish patriots: Mariana Pineda, a young woman who died for the cause of freedom and for her lover, Pedro de Sotomayer; the Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu, who went into self-exile at the death of Federico García Lorca and who kept his dreams and work alive in South America; and the iconic Lorca himself, one of Spain’s greatest poets and playwrights, who fell victim to the Fascists at the start of the Spanish Civil War. The opera Ainadamar tightly weaves the stories of these three people together, focusing on Xirgu as she stands in the wings of a Montevideo theatre in 1969 waiting to play, one last time, the role she had played for 42 years: that of Mariana Pineda, a role Lorca wrote for her. Lorca grew up in Granada with his family in a house that bordered the square where Mariana Pineda’s statue stood. The boy Lorca was fascinated by her story, by her courage and sacrifice, her fight for freedom and love of her cousin. Mariana Pineda personified his own youth and passion in terms of his need for love and longing for liberty. Lorca never found true freedom in love because of his homosexuality, which always had to be hidden. He little knew at the time that in writing of the death of Mariana he would be describing his own death at the hands of a cruel régime. In telling Mariana’s story, Lorca gave voice to the fatalism of the Spanish psyche.
Margarita Xirgu, a leading actress with her own company in Madrid in the years before Franco, first produced Mariana Pineda, taking some risk because the play discussed the ideological values of artists, a banned subject at the time, but the play was a major success and Xirgu became a social icon and a powerful symbol of democratic aspirations.

Lorca and Xirgu shared an intense love of theatre in their belief that theatre has a role to play in a nation’s social and political life. They toured Spain, Cuba, and South America in the 1920s and early ’30s. The last year of Lorca’s life, 1936, the political climate of Spain became increasingly threatening. Xirgu begged him to go with her company to South America but Lorca refused, saying in lines from the libretto: “I want to sing amidst the explosions. I want to sing an immense song. Spain is a bull burning alive, a river of mourning, a people draped in a black veil. I will stay here with my singing and my weeping.”

Lorca returned to his family in Granada that summer; the city fell to the fascist Falangists under General Franco on July 18. A month later, they came for Lorca. They imprisoned him at the government headquarters accusing him for his Leftist views, for being a subversive writer, a homosexual, and a communist (unjustifiably). On August 18 he, a lame school teacher and two bullfighters were taken to the village of Viznar, north of Granada, and shot. They fell near La Fuente de Ainadamar, the Fountain of Ainadamar or Fountain of Tears so named by the Moors who ruled the region in the 11th century. The bodies were buried in a mass grave at the site. Lorca had uncannily predicted his own death in the lines of his play Mariana Pineda: “By the edge of the fountain, when no-one was watching, my hope came to nothing.” Lorca was 38 years of age and one of the first to be executed in the Spanish Civil War.

Margarita Xirgu, on tour in South America at his death, kept the flame of Lorca’s life and work alive until her own death at age 81 in 1969. The opera, Ainadamar, tells Lorca’s story from Xirgu’s point of view. We stand with her in the wings as she waits to go on, one last time, to play Mariana Pineda. Her favorite student Nuria stands by her side as Xirgu’s tortured memories of the past pour out.

Osvaldo Golijov, a leading composer of our time, comes to opera with a rich background of many cultural influences: of Russia and Romania from his Jewish grandparents; of the tangos and rumbas of Argentina, the land of his birth; of Gypsy and flamenco rhythms, all of which can be heard in his many compositions. His fascination with Lorca began in childhood; he loved Lorca’s sensuality, his rhythm, his immensity as an artist. “Lorca died so young,” Golijov explained: “He was much more than I was able to capture. There were so many sides to him. Ainadamar presents only one Lorca: the lyrical, the pure child, joyous but with sudden premonitions of death, a gift to humankind. Fate made a myth of Lorca. I always envisioned the opera as a floating pomegranate, bleeding melodies that are Arab, Christian, and Jewish, the three civilizations that once co-existed in Spain. Lorca said that the greatest error in Spanish history was the expulsion of the Jews and the Muslims. For saying that, he paid with his life. As to the drama, the opera is, on my part, an attempt to distill a dark lyricism. All folk art forces us to eliminate props and needless pedantry, to reduce ourselves to essentials: pure line and rhythm. Lorca learned that from the Gypsies of Granada and I learned it from him. Lorca all his life was plagued by a deep, inner sadness and could be chronically depressed, but according to people who knew him, he was also a joyous presence, charismatic, with a resonant laugh and gleaming eyes.”

The librettist with whom Golijov collaborated is David Henry Hwang, best known for his play M. Butterfly. They worked closely together, Hwang writing in English that Golijov translated into Spanish, the language of the score. Golijov said of Hwang: “I am in awe of his imagination, his power to synthesize, his “musical” mind—he thinks his developments in counterpoint. The trajectories of all his characters are always kept in motion and converge beautifully at climactic points—as Bach’s lines do.”

The score is supplemented with pre-recorded sounds such as water dripping from Ainadamar’s springs; furious galloping patterns suggest violent hoofbeats that haunted the poet in his nightmares; gunshots point to the magnitude and injustice of Lorca’s execution, gunshots that are miraculously transformed to the rhythms of flamenco. There is even a section from a real clip of the Falange radio of the 1930s inciting the people to rise. Offsetting the rhythms of Spain, Golijov interjects exquisite passages of lyrical trios for the three women: Xirgu (Dawn Upshaw), Lorca (Kelley O’Connor), and Nuria (Jessica Rivera), in near-Straussian moments of heartfelt tenderness.

Golijov’s exciting opera is perhaps best described in Lorca’s own definition of Cante Hondo (Deep Song): “The melody begins, an undulant, endless melody. It loses itself horizontally, escapes from our hands as we see it withdraw from us toward a point of common longing and perfect passion.”

Desirée Mays is an international speaker on opera, the resident lecturer for The Santa Fe Opera, and author of the Opera Unveiled series.

1 comment:

  1. Oh thank you for posting this. There is much tenderness, violence, heartache, beauty, rapture and art in these words and music. I learned things about Lorca I didn't know, a lot, and about these others I knew nothing of.