The inaugural New York run of Golijov's Aindamar is under way, and it's getting strongly mixed reactions. Russell Platt, writing in my own newspaper, had tart words. Tony Tommasini waxed ambivalent in the Times. Richard Dyer of the Boston Globe found Golijov's music "hypnotically beautiful and lustrously orchestrated." Other critics were variously smitten and skeptical.
I attended the second of three performances and I hate to admit it, but I was disappointed. I'm still mesmerized by the score, and Alex's eloquent reaction to the Tanglewood premiere two years ago still rings true. But in Rose Hall, the home of Jazz at Lincoln Center, the piece had a muted, dreamy atmosphere that took me by surprise. Where was the juice? Instead of seducing the audience with its carnal dance, the music sounded distant and sacramental, like a doxology wafting from a church door.
Kelley O'Connor, the peaty mezo-soprano who sings Federico Garcia Lorca, sounded beautiful when I could hear her, which wasn't often. (All the singers wore body mikes and there was a problem with hers.) The hard-working rhythm section, rather than kick the interludes into a gallop merely embroidered them. Under Miguel Harth-Bedoya, the Orchestra of St. Luke's seemed unconvinced and somehow managed to sound too loud and too remote at the same time. A taped harangue of Franco's, which should have felt murderous, instead resembled one of those indecipherable announcements in a New York subway station.
The hall's acoustics and amplification system certainly contributed to the evening's muffled feel - I haven't heard another performance there with an ensemble in the pit. Another rehearsal or two might have helped. But the heaviest drag on the opera was Peter Sellars' staging, which included plenty of Tourette's syndrome gesticulations, tragic poses of the kind that went out with Sarah Bernhardt, and one unforgivable conceit, an execution that gets replayed over and over as if on a Philip Glassian loop: Shoot, crumple, rise, shoot, crumple rise, shoot. . . Stop!
The thing is, Ainadamar isn't really an opera at all; it's a poetic cantata that will probably have its richest life in the concert hall, where nobody minds when nothing happens, or when a spasm of violence segues into a meditative tableau. On stage, these eventless lengths felt awkward, and Sellars crammed them full of fussy stage business. (Even the unflappable Dawn Upshaw seemed to be struggling with the job of lobbing her lamentations over the waves of orchestration from a supine position.) In concert, the eyes could rest and let the ears savor the cerulean and magenta hues of Golijov's score.
JDavidson8 at nyc.rr.com