Lorca, Flamencoand the Spanish Civil War

Pacific Opera Victoria steps into lush new territory with the foot-stomping, gender-bending Ainadamar.

Lorca, Flamenco 
and the Spanish Civil War - YAM Colour Issue 2024

By David Lennam

How do you follow up on one of the all-time heavyweights of opera?

By presenting one few people have heard of.

Pacific Opera Victoria opened its season in October with an epic, five-hour staging of Wagner’s Die Walküre — complete with its “Ride of the Valkyries,” thunderous score and all that inspiration for a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

From February 21 to 27, they’re producing Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar.

This contemporary work (first staged in 2003), from an Argentinian composer who only wrote one opera, features none of the classical oomph or that Game of Thrones esthetic of Walküre and clocks in at just over 80 minutes (less than the second act of Walküre). But it’s an opera that comes in as something of a dark horse in a season bookended by standards.

The design of an opera season to include the expected and unexpected is part of the legacy of founding artistic director Timothy Vernon, who just retired after guiding the small opera company through most of its first 48 years and 150 shows. For every Carmen there was a Flight. For every La Bohème there was an Erewhon, a Rattenbury or a Missing.

Vernon’s template is well known to incoming artistic director Brenna Corner and it’s one she’s excited to build on.

“Some audiences,” she says, “don’t want to go on those adventuresome journeys, so it’s very exciting for me to be coming into a company where that’s already established.”

The POV’s newly crowned principal conductor has also seen the willingness of Victoria audiences to embrace works well beyond the classics. Giuseppe (Joey) Pietraroia, in his 20th year with the company, says locals are hungry for the new and the neglected.

“Opera is 400 years old. We can’t just keep playing the same Top 10 all the time,” he says.
“As you build your audience, and your trust in an audience, you can take them on a journey.”

For those unfamiliar with Ainadamar (and that’s pretty well all of us), it is the story of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca and his muse, an actress named Margarita Xirgu, which unravels in reverse through flashbacks and ends tragically with Lorca’s violent death at the hands of the fascists in the Spanish Civil War.

Pietraroia points out that while it’s about Lorca, the libretto by American David Henry Hwang puts the emphasis on the couple’s relationship. “It’s her reminiscence of his life and her guilt in not convincing him to leave Spain,” he says.

Pietraroia, who spent marathon sessions in the pit conducting Walküre, says Ainadamar presents its own novelty and challenges. A technical monster of a production, it’s the first POV offering to be sung in Spanish. It’s also the first to feature music that’s flamenco-heavy, with all the percussive instruments (and two guitars in the orchestra) that drive the rhythms of Spanish dance — dance that takes a major role here.

He says it resides somewhere between opera and a passion play, with the artistic martyrdom of Lorca.

And look for Polish mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp singing the role of Lorca. Pietraroia explains this “trouser role,” as it’s referred to when a role is performed by a player of the opposite sex, is not a completely uncommon one. “It’s very similar with what Mozart did with Cherubino in Marriage of Figaro.”

Which is how POV will end its season in April.

Ainadamar will take place February 21, 23, 25 and 27 at the Royal Theatre. For tickets and info, visit pacificopera.ca or rmts.bc.ca.