Place des Arts was nearly full for the Canadian premiere of this opera, first performed 20 years ago at Tanglewood and then recorded for Deutsche Grammophon (starring Dawn Upshaw as Margarita).
For those to whom the name Golijov does not mean much, he is a former student of George Crumb and Oliver Knussen known for incorporating various folklores (Caribbean, klezmer, tango, etc.) . An accessible language which, in the case of Ainadamar, makes a shrewd and almost constant use of percussion and a moderate employment of dissonance and concrete music.
Each scene is characterized by great unity tonally (presence of “pedals” – long sustained notes) and rhythmically (many ostinatos). The entire opera resembles an immense litany whose throbbing character is reminiscent of the atmosphere of Ravel’s Boléro.
From the point of view of the libretto (by American playwright David Henry Hwang), it is a kind of lamentation over the death, during the Spanish Civil War, of the Spanish poet Federico García Lorca seen through the eyes of his muse, actress Margarita Xirgu, who survived him by thirty years.
This opera – in Spanish – of only 80 minutes, however, requires significant resources, in the Montreal case a pit of about fifty musicians from the Orchester symphonique de Montréal, a choir of about twenty singers, seven flamenco dancers and eight extras.
The rhythmic staging of Californian Brian Staufenbiel, back in Montreal five years after his Rhinegold, helps transform this crowd into a vibrant ballet tuned to the quarter turn. The unique, two-level set that the director imagined alongside Pierre Massoud of the Opéra de Montréal hits the mark.
Of the seven soloists, it is Ontario soprano Emily Dorn who wins by far, both quantitatively – the role of Margarita is the most present – and qualitatively. In residence in the opera troupe of a city of 70,000 inhabitants in central Germany (something unimaginable here), the singer seduces as much by her magnetic presence as by her ductile voice allowing her to marry all contours. of the passably virtuoso line which is devolved to him. Only downside: the sometimes overly generous amplification of his voice.
Facing her, Italian countertenor Luigi Schifano’s García Lorca seems paler, both as an actor and as a singer. It must be said that the role is written for a mezzo-soprano, the composer playing on the ambiguity aroused by the hero’s homosexuality.
Other roles include the effervescent Nuria of young soprano Elisabeth Polese (of the Atelier lyrique de l’Opéra de Montréal) and the authentic Andalusian flamenco singer Alfredo Tejada, impressive as the infamous Ramón Ruiz Alonso .
And there is of course the conductor Nicole Paiement, who is not a simple beater, as we see too often in contemporary music. The Quebecer based in San Francisco (she works for the same company as Staufenbiel) is not new to this score, and it shows. The pit crackles under his sharp direction.
Unlike the last production, the Opera did not consider it useful to resort to trauma warnings this time, despite the presence of fascist references and very explicit scenes of violence.