State Opera of South Australia @ Festival Theatre
7:00pm, Fri 29 Feb 2008
It amused me no end that the first name I spied when opening the programme for Ainadamar was Peter Sellars – the man responsible for the blight that was the 2002 Festival. Thankfully, it appears that his self-indulgent touch of death had nothing to do with this production.
Ainadamar centres on a performance of Mariana Pineda, penned by Federico García Lorca in 1927. Pineda was a martyr for the Spanish Revolution in 1831 and, likewise, Lorca is also persecuted in 1930′s Granada. As Ainadamar opens, leading lady Margarita waits in the wings for her entrance; she begins telling the story of her first meeting with Lorca (in a Madrid bar some 40 years earlier) to her student, Nuria. She conveys the passion that inspired the Spanish Republic, we flash back to the Grenadan massacres, before returning to the play-in-progress – in time to see Margarita die in the wings, with the knowledge and desire for freedom passed on to Nuria.
First things first: the music in Ainadamar is incredible. Really, truly, amazing. Argentinian composer Osvaldo Golijov has created a score which is beautiful, powerful, sublime. The opening, alone, is worth the squillions of dollars I paid for these tickets. Yes, it was really that good.
The staging for the piece consisted of a series of curved walls, easily moved and rotated by the cast to create the illusions of the wings of the theatre, backstage, or even the wall against which people were shot. These blank white walls also served as a surface for projected media, and here’s where my major complaint with Ainadamar comes in: the styles used for projected information were a mish-mash, often clashing with each other and at odds with the mood of the piece. It’s not a huge complaint, mind you, but there was something quite jarring about the transition between beautifully scripted handwriting to puffy white clouds to gushes of bright-red blood and cartoonish bullet-holes.
Performances were fine – once I’d got over the girlish presentation of Lorca – and the chorus of the play-within-an-opera was just magnificent; every time the ballad of Mariana Pineda struck up, I’d get chills. But the thing that really sticks out in my mind about Ainadamar is the ending; as after a beautifully weighted build-up, Margarita dies, and the baton is passed to Nuria, who takes to the stage (within a stage) to a thunderous crescendo.
“Great place for this to end,” thunk I.
Except, with the mood and pace of the music dropped to a whimper, the chorus took to the stage again, leading me to instinctively think that Ainadamar was jumping the shark.
Oh how wrong I was.
Another ascension, this time even more cunningly judged, rises up and up and up with Nuria in the leading role until the curtain is dropped – only to be caught by Nuria two metres from ground, allowing the chorus to well up again, sending the curtain to the heavens and the causing the titular Fountain of Tears (which I’ve neglected to mention before) rain down on the stage as the dancer representing the voice of Freedom emerges through the fountain and…
Fuck me, I’ve just welled up with tears again. Suffice to say, this was – without a doubt – one of the most beautiful, liberating endings to a performance I’ve ever seen – chock to the brim with stunning music and song and imagery and… passion. And to think that I’d almost written it off! Nice little life lesson there for me.
In short – Ainadamar was stunning; I only wish I could have seen more of it. My now-necessary pre-show naps seem to keep getting interrupted, meaning the I missed most of the surtitles in the first third, as I viewed the action through glazed and foggy eyes.