Review: Ainadamar

HEARTSTOPPING: Ainadamar is truly an opera of our time, earthy and rich, and reinforced with brilliant AV work.
HEARTSTOPPING: Ainadamar is truly an opera of our time, earthy and rich, and reinforced with brilliant AV work.

Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar: Soloists, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, New Zealand Opera Chapman Tripp Chorus, conducted by Miguel Harth- Bedoya.

Director Sara Brodie, design/AV Tim Gruchy, costume designer Diane Brodie

Michael Fowler Centre, Sunday

Reviewed by John Button

When Golijov's opera Ainadamar was premiered in 2003 many wondered if it was actually an opera at all, given that it revolves around reminiscences surrounding the death in Spain in 1936 of Federico Garcia Lorca and appeared essentially plotless.

Since then the opera has been revised and shortened but the central question remained.

What this production showed in graphic terms is that it doesn't matter what you call it - opera, oratorio, musical theatre - it is a wonderfully direct communication, full of atmosphere, temperature hot and cold, passion and precision that, with its brevity, has a cohesion missing from many of the meandering operas of Philip Glass.

The music is a heady mix of Spanish, Sephardic and Latin American influences, at times smoldering with dramatic excitement, at others reflective in a lushly sultry fashion, and the emotions that flicker constantly are enhanced by the absolutely brilliant audio/visual work of Tim Gruchy.

His panels at the rear on which the visuals are displayed draw the audience into the emotional drama right from the very outset, and they are used to brilliant effect right through the opera, with both the startling use of real gunshots and stark visuals of the bullet holes the dramatic highlight. But they reinforce all the atmosphere shifts - without Gruchy's efforts, would it all work as well?

The singing by experienced Aindamar performers was superbly gripping. Jessica Rivera, as Lorca's artistic collaborator and central narrator in the opera, and Kelley O'Connor as Lorca (yes, it is a trouser role) were both so good it would be hard to imagine anyone else in either part.

One had to suspend disbelief a little for Leanne Kenneally as the pupil Nuria, although she sang wonderfully well - and the trio featuring the three singers towards the end was heartstopping.

The men were superb, and the ladies of the New Zealand Opera Chorus almost stole the show; very important to the action, they displayed a rich Latin quality to their singing that was astonishing. The orchestra, with the all- important guitar and percussion parts, was completely at one with the conductor Harth-Bedoya. The audience left stunned by the impact of this earthy, rich, moving "opera" for our time.

Why was there no second performance - for schoolkids, say?

The Dominion Post