Mary Woodward Review

Ainadamar, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal Glasgow, Review:

***** (5 stars)

“Magnificent and Unforgettable”

Passion.  Fire.  Blood.  Anguish.

In the darkness, shifting shapes on a curtain of metal strings resolve themselves into a giant white bull.  Feet pound out a frenzied rhythm which increases in intensity until a spotlight picks out a flamenco soloist.  A chorus, mainly of women, enters and joins in the stamping…

A woman is alone confronting an empty stage, pouring out her grief in song – such pain: I loved him like a son.  A spotlight moves around the stage, and she regards it – night after night I play the woman he created for me…  This is Margarita Xirgu, who created the title role in Federico Garcia Lorca’s play Mariana Pineda about a 19th century political martyr who had fascinated him from childhood.

Margarita Xirgu is old now.  Her students ask her about her relationship with Lorca, and we go back in time and see their first meeting, when he tells her of his fascination with Mariana Pineda – she died for the revolution but the revolution betrayed her. 

Lorca’s poems and plays speak out in favour of freedom, but the fascists come to power in Spain and all opposition is brutally crushed.  Margarita Xirgu fears for Lorca’s life and begs him to flee with her to Cuba – she reminds him of the happy times they had there in the past – but he refuses, saying he must stay in Spain and speak out his truth.  There can only be one outcome – Lorca is executed by the fascists at a well near Granada known as Ainadamar – in Arabic, the fountain of tears.

Margarita Xirgu devotes the rest of her life to playing the part of Mariana Pineda, keeping Lorca and his message alive.  Now dying, she has a vision in which Lorca thanks her for keeping his words alive – words survive when all else is killed.

Ainadamar is an extraordinary piece in which song, dance, and the percussive sounds of hands clapping and feet stamping create an all-encompassing world in which passions are free to soar and dreams are given voice.   The pounding rhythms of the heart are heard in the hands and feet of the flamenco dancers while their great near-wordless sung laments pour out overwhelming grief.

The red of passion, violence and blood contrasts with calmer creams and greens and more lyrical moments.  Broken wooden beams fall from the sky and became red-lit barricades on which people die; words of protest and cries for freedom are projected on to the metal ‘curtain’.  A judge-like figure of authority howls out the accusations against Lorca – he is an enemy of Spain, a friend of Russia, and a faggot: for all these he must die.  Lorca’s fate is perceived as mirroring Jesus’ crucifixion: he dies with two other men – a torero and a teacher – flanking him.  Margarita Xirgu howls out what crime did he commit? She answers herself, saying he did more damage with his pen than many with their pistols.

There are moments of lightness and joy, remembered from the place of pain. There is individual lamenting and communal outpourings of grief at the loss both of freedom and of the one who spoke out against that loss.  But even death could not silence him: his words live on. 

Must the fight for freedom always end in tragedy?  Or will others take up the cause and struggle on?

The singers were mesmerising.  Lauren Fagan was a commanding, impassioned, tragic Margarita Xirgu beside the gentler, extraordinarily charismatic figure of Samantha Hankey’s Lorca.  Julieth Lozano was superb as Margarita Xirgu’s student Nuria – her part was at times in the shadow of the other two, but she more then held her own in the trio near the end of the piece, which in intensity rivals the great one from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier.  All three artists are making their debut with Scottish Opera. 

The fourth stunning singer was flamenco maestro Alfredo Tejado, whose intensity and volume more than matched those of his fellow singers.  His commanding stage presence and authoritative delivery made him the perfect Ruiz Alonso, a Falangist officer and the focal point of the opposition to all that Lorca stood for.

The staging, the lighting, the costumes and the dancing all united with the extraordinary sound-world created by Osvaldo Golijov to present a deeply-moving, heartfelt celebration of and lament for Federico Garcia Lorca.  As the light finally faded from the stage, we were left with the eternal outpouring of tears from Ainadamar – the fountain of tears.

Passion.  Fire.  Blood.  Anguish. 

Magnificent.  Unforgettable.

Osvaldo Golijov, Ainadamar, Scottish Opera, Theatre Royal Glasgow, until Saturday 5th November then the Festival Theatre Edinburgh, Saturday 12th November for tickets go to:

Glasgow: Scottish Opera – Ainadamar Tickets | Theatre Royal Glasgow in Glasgow | ATG Tickets

Edinburgh: Scottish Opera: Ainadamar (capitaltheatres.com)

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