Fountain of Tears
Ainadamar at the Santa Fe Opera
Federico Garcia Lorca's belief in the poetry of the theater—and the emotional possibilities of art—have often become buried beneath his reputation as a political figure and symbol of freedom. When he was executed by the Spanish Fascists, Lorca at once became a martyr for political and artistic liberty.
Yet composer Osvaldo Golijov and librettist David Henry Hwang have come to understand Lorca not through his politics but through his poetry and plays. The drama and passion of Lorca's work inspired them to collaborate on Ainadamar, a new opera about Lorca's life.
Ainadamar will be the first opera ever sung in Spanish at the Santa Fe Opera. Director Peter Sellars will lend his famous touch, Dawn Upshaw will play the lead role and Kelley O'Connor, mezzo-soprano, will play the role of Lorca.
Sellars wanted to make the production more significant to a New Mexico audience, so he brought in Gronk, a Los Angeles painter and muralist, to create the set for Ainadamar. Gronk was an artist-in-residence at UNM, and his work has been exhibited at the National Hispanic Cultural Center, where he has also given live painting "performances."
Ainadamar began to take visual shape last year when Gronk spent an evening sitting in the empty Santa Fe Opera hall with Sellars, dreaming about the production. In April, the Santa Fe Opera production department set up walls and a ground cloth in the opera's rehearsal hall. Gronk soon arrived to begin painting the walls. It was the first set he had ever painted. He came in every morning to work on what would become the dramatic and richly colored two-dimensional set of the opera.
As Gronk painted, Santa Fe Opera Production Director Paul Horpedahl quickly recognized that Gronk had immersed himself in Lorca's life, the Spanish history from the period and artists of the time. The research began to appear on the walls in abstract and familiar forms.
Ainadamar, the SFO's final production of the season, traces the life of Lorca through the eyes of Spanish actress Margarita Xirgu, who played many lead roles in his plays. The opera's three characters are Lorca, Xirgu and Mariana Pineda, a 19th century Spanish folk heroine about whom Lorca wrote his first play.
The life of Pineda is eerily akin to Lorca's. She was an activist and sympathizer with the liberal underground during the reign of King Fernando VII. When Pineda was 26, she was executed for refusing to name her liberal conspirators.
Lorca was executed in 1936 during the Spanish Civil War. The place where he died was called Ainadamar or "Fountain of Tears."
When Lorca wrote the play Mariana Pineda, the heroine had been a legend and political symbol in Spain for nearly 100 years. The play was staged during the reign of dictator Miguel Primo de Rivera, and it resonated deeply with Spain's artists and leftists. In his play, Lorca worked to humanize the central figure and tie her political passion to personal passions of the heart.
Ainadamar unfolds through Lorca's own works and an aged Xirgu's memory of conversations with him. In her own internal conversations, Xirgu remains traumatized by Lorca's assassination. She attempts to navigate the line between the person she once loved and the political abstraction he has become. Like Lorca's work, Ainadamar is a stylized production in which life is made into "art" in a new context—on stage and through music.
Musically, Ainadamar also mirrors Lorca's synthesis of modern and folk elements and his experiments with surrealism. The score blends "real world" sounds and music, moving between violence and dream worlds. It relies heavily on the flamenco of Lorca's region, as well as Moorish and Andalusian influences.
In Ainadamar, Xirgu realizes she must dig beneath the legend to keep alive the voice of Lorca. She realizes her love for Lorca the individual is connected to a continued struggle against forces such as those that ended his life.
Gronk's set evokes this hope and the possibility for life in the face of struggle. Horpedahl says Gronk's base idea centers on seeds, and there is a portion of the set that is a cross-section of ground exposing the anatomy of seed, root and plant.
"No matter what happens to a civilization there are always seeds lying below," explains Horpedahl. Gronk's concept, he says, is that beneath oppression these seeds can grow and give people new strength. It's a metaphor Lorca himself might have appreciated.