I've now heard several and read at least a dozen reports from the opening of Osvaldo Golijov's Ainadamar at Lincoln Center. Curiously, not one of them has reflected even remotely my experience of seeing and hearing this production in Santa Fe.
Can it really be that no one is responding to Golijov/ Sellars/ Hwang's potent condemnation of totalitarianism—not just in its historical manifestations in Spain (or Argentina, for that matter), but also in its latent form in contemporary America? I have to say, in all honesty and without exaggeration, that as I watched Ainadamar play itself out that night I was crying tears of anger, frustration and recognition. The moment I got back to my car I felt compelled to send a small number of people who were connected with the production this message from my phone:
I'll just say one thing:
WHAT THE HELL IS HAPPENING TO OUR WORLD????????
I'm getting a drink.
To which M. G-, who knows the piece as well as the creators themselves, simply responded:
Golijov in a recent interview is quoted as saying:
In the opera, Lorca, through one of the characters, says "You love freedom, but I am freedom." And that to me is the main point. That people who love freedom feel entitled to kill others for that love, but those people who are freedom are actually killed.
And this is precisely the aspect I am amazed has been missing from the public discussion. I would go so far as to say that if you came out of the Rose Theater debating amplification or musical multiculturalism or populism in classical music, then we didn't see the same show.
I've been thinking the Rose Theater was simply the wrong venue. Or maybe Santa Fe was just the super-right venue. I have been wondering for months how well the production would transfer, as there are so many aspects of the Santa Fe production that are necessarily unique to that space. The opening water sounds were reflected in the water at the edge of the Santa Fe stage, and consequently did not manifest as a 'sound effect.' As dusk passed and the darkness of nighttime settled around the theater, Gronk's set came out in relief, becoming ever more horrific as the show progressed and evoking Guernica in its violence.
And most strikingly, at the end of the piece, as Xirgu's disciples walked slowly upstage while consoling each other in their grief at the death of liberty and the assassination of the human spirit, the back panel of the set flew up to expose the openness of the New Mexico horizon. The wind blew into the theater, swirling around the ensemble singers' dresses. And in that one gesture, by removing a third wall, the invisible fourth wall separating the audience from the performance crumbled completely. It became profoundly clear that Ainadamar was not intended to be a historical tragedy. Rather, what we witnessed on stage we are also witnessing in our personal lives right now. The performance is more than a performance; it is reality. By the end of the piece, the soldier in his camouflage had visually disappeared into the set, and I was left with the distinct impression that the struggle against fascism is not a vain one.
So we can sit around and natter on about whether accessibility is harmful to High Art or whether flamenco rhythms have any place in a concert hall or whether microphones destroy the integrity of the operatic experience, I suppose. But frankly, I'm much more interested in whether the creators of Ainadamar are saying something meaningful about our lives, and if what they have to say makes me think in ways that I've never thought before.
As for Peter Sellars, evaluation of his work always seems to center on the physical gestures he choreographs on his performers or some aspect of stagecraft that the given reviewer finds irritating. I myself have indulged in this sort of criticism of every piece of his I've ever seen. But what I rarely hear discussed is his uncanny ability to get every performer he works with to focus their artistic energy on trying to transform society through their performance. Whatever one might say about his stagings, it cannot be argued that he gets utterly committed performances from his singers and actors every time. You may not like those hand movements, but there is likely not one person on that stage who is prioritizing The Beautiful Voice over an integral and transformative artistic goal.
And lastly, regarding the music I'll just say this: whether Osvaldo Golijov's music should be classified as "Serious Music" is not a particularly interesting conversation, as far as I'm concerned. The real discussion is whether Golijov's music reveals a special musical personality that has the ability to make us revisit our assumptions of what well-crafted music can and should be. You can probably guess where I land.