At the turn of the millennium Argentine composer Osvaldo Golijov was one of the biggest names in contemporary classical music; his eclectic melding of influences – everything from Klezmer to Latin dance rhythms and electronica giving his music a popular appeal unheard of for most living composers. But it’s more than a decade since he has produced anything of note, his creativity largely silenced by personal issues, yet the popularity of those early works remains.
His opera Ainadamar dates from Golijov’s most successful period, although it is only now receiving its first UK staging almost two decades on. That this Scottish Opera production created in collaboration with Opera Ventures is also a co-production with Welsh National Opera, Detroit Opera and the Metropolitan Opera is testimony to the enduring popularity of his work.
Ainadamar (“fountain of tears”) refers to an ancient well outside Granada where the poet Federico García Lorca is thought to have been executed by fascist forces at the start of the Spanish civil war. This isn’t a straightforward narrative about the final day of Lorca’s life; rather Golijov and his librettist David Henry Hwang present the poet through a triptych of scenes in which his muse, actor Margarita Xirgu (Lauren Fagan) remembers her relationship with Lorca (Samantha Hankey) to her protege Nuria (Julieth Lozano).
Golijov’s score is a collage of influences, shifting fluidly from flamenco and electronic music to the classical language of 19th-century opera all soaked in the vibrant musical colour of Spain, deftly captured by the Orchestra of Scottish Opera and conductor Stuart Stratford. In this production the musical language finds a mirror in Deborah Colker’s striking staging. Dance rhythms are central to Ainadamar so having a director who is also a choreographer makes sense on many levels. The image of the fountain is at the heart of Jon Bausor’s set; it is a screen on which images are projected and a veil that can be drawn over the action that happens within.
Although Lorca is the central figure of the narrative, Golijov’s music is a celebration of the feminine, with the three central roles cast as female voices. The male voices are largely associated with the nationalist guards embodying violence and oppression. Golijov furthers this idea by transfiguring Lorca’s execution into the crucifixion, with Xirgu the latter-day Madonna figure. This feels like an unnecessary imposition on to the work, something that Colker’s clever staging does not entirely dispel.