In what might be one of the more fascinating pieces from Welsh National Opera, Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar – with its focal point of the great Spanish writer Federico García Lorca – offers a fusion of opera and flamenco, with some experimental elements as well.
The dark and serious tone of the opening, as the first few sung lines we hear throughout, permeates the pinballing narrative: bulls, and bullrings, haunt the space, the video work highly evocative. At times, Lorca’s verse is smeared across, for us to read.
Lorca meets his love, actress Margarita Xirgu; a heightened romance ensues, before the expected tragedy. More should be known about the Spanish Civil War in this country: Lorca was one of its many victims in an appalling conflict whose remains have still not been found, nearly 100 years later. Here, the story mingles love with war: it’s rare for me to crave more at the opera, but just a little more romance from the lovers might have added to the runtime.
Directed by an inspired Deborah Colker, this dance-heavy show is made glorious thanks to the effort of the dancers. The WMC, though well-regarded as a dance space, is not always given its due – this, thankfully, is an exception. I’ve spoken before about flamenco’s grace of posturing, its famously rampant footwork a crowdpleaser here as ever, and whilst we could have been given even more dance, lovers of the form should leave satisfied. The female Chorus of WNO, musically grounded and strident, are in certain moments vital to the story.
Margarita is tackled with spirit by Jaquelina Livieri – even with the use of electronics in the score her voice rings out, her evocative touches noteworthy – and there’s a trouser role for Hanna Hipp as Lorca, in a smashing recreation of the man himself. Hipp weaves through the high strands around the stage, and if her vocal feats are less interesting, Lorca’s words are profound enough to stand on their own. Alfredo Tejada, as Ruiz Alonso, is a fabulous traditional singer of flamenco – and, as the big baddie, spouts homophobia and fascist rhetoric. A supporting cast from Wales and beyond shine, with bullfighter dancer Isaac Tovar one of several thrills this evening.
Designer Jon Bausor has featured well, getting away with what could have been a difficult staging. Conductor Matthew Kofi Waldren, and an orchestra packed with guitars, piano, percussion and more, relish this eccentric piece, happily augmented by electronica; sound designer Cameron Crosby havs a field day with all the heady, austere soundscapes added to the pot.
Today’s opera world is at its best when it incorporates other musical and dance styles, on an international plain; as barriers continue to be broken in the field, WNO’s Ainadamar stands as an impressive example of this inclusivity.
Ainadamar, Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay, Sat 9 Sept
Also on Sun 17 and Tue 26 Sept. Tickets: £17-£57/£5 under-16s. Info: here
words JAMES ELLIS