Ainadamar – Milton Keynes Theatre

Reviewer: Simon Tavener

Music: Osvaldo Golijov

Director: Deborah Colker

Conductor: Matthew Kofi Waldren

In an era of cuts to arts funding in general and opera in particular, it is heartening to see Welsh National Opera taking risks by staging a piece like Ainadamar. It is far from being a traditional opera but it is a thrilling piece of music theatre that captures an audience and keeps them enthralled for eighty minutes.

Taking elements and episodes from the life and works of Lorca, Ainadamar is a fusion of song, dance and drama that draws on the musical heritage of Spain to create something innovative, challenging yet always accessible. It is contemporary music of the highest quality and Osvald Gojilov is a composer that music lovers should all seek to discover.

Matthew Kofi Waldren’s conducting is exemplary. The score is demanding, not least in combining the acoustic and electronic elements. Full credit to all involved in creating such an intricate and engaging soundscape.

Visually the production is both sumptuous and spare. Jon Bausor’s stripped-back design combines simple elements to create evocative backgrounds for the action. It is enhanced by stunning lighting and projection designs from Paul Keogan and Tal Rosner. These all combine to deliver a visually arresting stage presentation. Credit must also go to Antonio Najarro for his dazzling choreography. His flamenco-inspired work holds the piece together with passion and precision. It is a thrilling exploration of how dance can create drama and character. Director Deborah Colker handles the balance between all these elements with confidence and accomplishment.

Gojilov’s score is very much a celebration of the female voice. In that, he is part of the same tradition of Richard Strauss and many others. He asks much of his singers – exploiting their ranges to the fullest extent. And the cast rises to these challenges brilliantly.

Jaquelina Livieri as Lorca’s collaborator and muse is simply stunning. It is one of those mesmerising performances that will stay with you long after the curtain falls. Brave, sensual and moving. She is well matched by Hanna Hipp (Lorca) whose lower register is a revelation. When the two combine, the effect is transformative. This is particularly the case in the Havana sequence where the singing, dancing and design fuse into a special moment of storytelling.

Special mention must go to Alfredo Tejada for his flamenco vocals. The tessitura of the writing is extraordinary and he makes it feel effortless. A true master of his craft.

It is a privilege to see such an innovative work being toured in the current climate. Ainadamaris earthy and ethereal, sensitive and seductive. Welsh National Opera and its collaborators are to be congratulated for their bold vision and outstanding delivery.

Reviewed on 16 November 2023 and on tour

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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