REVIEW: Opera Philadelphia’s Ainadamar Underwhelms

opera philadelphia ainadmar

Photo by Fernando Daniel Fernandez.

Five actors shoot three characters at point-blank range on a stage. Then the executioners break into a choreographed flamenco number immediately after, firing their guns to the beat of the music.

You might think I’m describing some sort of variation on the “Springtime for Hitler” sequence in Mel Brook’s The Producers, where we are supposed to laugh at the absurdly developed (on purpose, mind you) theatrical production about the Nazi regime.

But you’d be wrong.

Instead, the above execution scene is from Opera Philadelphia’s staging of Golijov’s Ainadamar: Fountain of Tears that opened this Friday at the Academy of Music, which is, unfortunately, supposed to be taken seriously. The opera, which runs a brief 80 minutes, is underwhelming at best, and downright incoherent and disconnected at worst.

Of particular note is the fact that the main character in the opera, famed playwright and poet Federico Garcia Lorca, is essentially lacking context, development, and ethos. Lorca, who was a gay man, is strangely hetero-sexualized in the production, infatuated with two women (minus one reference to him being a “faggot”); very little historical framework is provided in regards to Lorca as a great literary mind. Instead, we are rushed through a series of redundant, often cryptic scenes where director Luis de Tavira’s extremely stylized hand feels forced instead of organic. Unless you come to the opera with an extremely well-read background on Lorca, his work, and the context surrounding his death, the opera makes too many leaps without what every good undergraduate learns in fiction writing 101: You sort of need a plot.

There were some commendable performances in the midst of the madness — the soprano Maria Hinojosa Montenegro sang a fierce and fiery Margarita, the female lead (and some would argue, the protagonist). Ms. Montengro’s generally strong, Wagnerian-styled voice was the highlight of the evening, despite her upper-register falling slightly short toward the end of the performance. Lorca, a pants role, was played with reassuring and focused control by mezzo-soprano Marina Pardo. As my previous comments suggest, there’s not much material for Ms. Pardo to work with here, but she did a noble job presenting a pleasantly warm, rich tone to her voice.

There’s passionate and spirited dancing by a team of well-trained flamenco performers throughout, even if their numbers don’t quite make sense in the overall scope of the narrative. (If you can even argue that there is a narrative.) The piece ends with a long, drawn-out juxtaposition of Lorca as a Christ figure (with painfully overt “breaking the bread” and “drinking of wine” allusions) while a band of dancers, wearing black sleeveless shirts, throw blue pages of writing across the stage. It’s heavy handed as it is, but what makes such an overt scene particularly problematic in Ainadamar is that we haven’t been lead to a full understanding of, well, just about anything in the show, never mind the impact of Lorca and his writing. The only “fountain of tears” comes from the frustrated audience trying to put together the pieces of a disjointed evening.

Ainadamar runs through Feb. 16, 2014 at the Academy of Music. For more information, visit Opera Philadelphia’s webpage.