Composer Golijov Tries Opera with 'Ainadamar' Osvaldo Golijov melds different musical genres, from folk to electronic, into a highly personal style. Now the Argentinean-born composer has written an opera: Ainadamar.

Composer Golijov Tries Opera with 'Ainadamar'

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

One of the hottest contemporary classical composers carved his niche by melding different musical genres, from folk to electronic, into his own personal style. Osvaldo Golijov was born in Argentina. He's written string quartets and songs cycles, orchestral works and an oratorio. And then he made the jump to opera. His latest work is called Ainadamar and it's been the buzz of Tanglewood in Massachusetts, in Santa Fe and New York City, and now it's been released on CD.

Jeff Lunden has the story.

JEFF LUNDEN reporting:

You've never quite heard flamenco rhythms like those at the beginning of Osvaldo Golijov's new opera about martyred Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca.

Mr. OSVALDO GOLIJOV (Composer, Ainadamar): In the opera, when I use flamenco, I wanted to use it in a more transmuted form. So for instance, I have a horse galloping. And that gallop becoming a flamenco heel dance.

(Soundbite from Ainadamar)

LUNDEN: Anastasia Tsioulcas, classical music columnist for Billboard Magazine, says taking hoof beats and electronically changing them into flamenco rhythms is very much part of Golujov's broad musical reach.

Ms. ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS (Columnist, Billboard Magazine): I don't think he about setting out saying, what would happen if I married flamenco with medieval Sephardic music and, you know, the traditional opera genre and see what happens. I think for Osvaldo, it's very organic. You know, I've heard the criticisms from the English press, for example, that he's dabbling in this and that. It's much of a pastiche. But I think what it is, is it's a very honest reflection of who Osvaldo is as a person and as an artist.

(Soundbite from Ainadamar)

LUNDEN: The central character in Ainadamar is not Lorca, but his muse, actress Margarita Xirgu. The action of the opera takes place in the final moments of her life. She stands in the wings in a theater in Uruguay, about to perform one of his plays. It's 33 years after Lorca was murdered by the Fascists in the Spanish Civil War. David Henry Hwang wrote the libretto.

Mr. DAVID HENRY HWANG (Composer): It all takes place in the second before Margarita dies. But the structure is very much kind of a dream state. It's what takes place in someone's unconscious, perhaps, as they are revisiting the events of their lives before they pass onto the next existence.

LUNDEN: Margarita Xirgu was fierce and political. A close friend of Lorca's, she was banished from Spain after his death in 1936. Dawn Upshaw plays the actress.

Ms. DAWN UPSHAW (Soprano, Ainadamar): She's remembering and really kind of tormented by Lorca's death and by a feeling that she ought to have been able to save him. And I think she needs to go through this painful kind of process right before she dies. It seems to be a part of release for her.

(Soundbite from Ainadamar)

LUNDEN: Osvaldo Golijov says the original commission by the Boston Symphony was for Dawn Upshaw and the female students at Tanglewood, so he librettist David Henry Hwang initially decided to write a Lorca opera without the character of Lorca. Then Golijov came across an audition tape of Tanglewood apprentice Kelley O'Connor.

Mr. GOLIJOV: When I heard that I thought maybe she could be Lorca. And then I looked at her picture, you know, I say well, Kelley O'Connor, Irish girl, whatever. And she looks exactly like Lorca and I just grabbed the phone and I said, David, how about if we have Lorca sung by a woman? She sounds like what I think Lorca would have sounded, but she looks like him. And David said okay. So that's how it went.

(Soundbite from Ainadamar)

LUNDEN: Mezzo-soprano Kelley O'Connor says playing the flamboyant playwright wasn't easy.

Ms. KELLEY O'CONNOR (Mezzo-Soprano, Ainadamar): That's a challenge, just coming from being a woman, an American woman, to have to play this outgoing, charismatic Spanish man, and I hadn't had a lot of opera experience up to then. And I had to let loose a lot more.

(Soundbite from Ainadamar)

LUNDEN: David Henry Hwang says he wrote the libretto in English, which Osvaldo Golijov then translated to Spanish.

Mr. HWANG: I think it's an amazing way for the composer to really own the libretto. I mean, in some sense you can argue that this libretto, certainly the libretto that you hear sung, is co-written because I did a version of it and then Osvaldo had to make it his own.

LUNDEN: One of Hwang's favorite moments in the opera, and he says it was an idea that wasn't in the original libretto, is what happens after Lorca and two other prisoners are executed.

(Soundbite of gunshots)

Mr. HWANG: It breaks into the sound of gunshots that repeat in a flamenco pattern, but also there's a kind of cantos, which is one of the most kind of soulful and primal expressions of music and singing you're going to hear. And yet it's in the service of this kind of horrible moment and being sung, presumably by one of the Fascists that's responsible for the murder of Lorca.

(Soundbite from Ainadamar)

LUNDEN: Those surprising musical and dramatic juxtapositions are what singer Kelley O'Connor finds so powerful and different about Ainadamar.

Ms. O'CONNOR: You know, I can always say to people who don't like opera or haven't experienced a lot, I say just listen to it because it's not like anything you've heard. It's very different and I feel like it's opening a lot of doors and opening opera to an audience that maybe wouldn't have listened to it before.

LUNDEN: Ainadamar is going to be performed in concert version in June at the Ojai Festival in California and at Ravinia, near Chicago later this summer.

For NPR News, I'm Jeff Lunden in New York.

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