8 12 2008

The musicians were tuning their instruments as we entered the auditorium. Some of them sauntered in, a violin or french horn in hand, others stood, and others sat and concentrated on the score in front of them.

It was my first performance at Carnegie Hall, and I leaned forward from my second tier seat to take in the sight. The space itself is relatively spare, for acoustical reasons, I’d guess, but it felt luxurious to be seated in a box with five other people. I’d brought Ricola to stem any inconvenient cough (tho’ later spied the overflowing bins of Ricola near the tops of stairs), and dug out my kleenex. I was prepared.


The concert performance, after all, of Osvaldo Golijov’s Ainadamar, about the death of Frederico Garcia Lorca (sung by Kelley O’Connor), about his life, and the life and sorrows of his friend and would-be protector Margarita Xirgu (Dawn Upshaw), would almost certainly make me cry. I hate to cry, and I cry every time I listen to the cd, but I can’t not listen to such beauty. And I did cry—when Margarita fails to convince Lorca to flee to Havana with her, when the Falangist Ruiz Alonso (Jesus Montoya) calls for the head (Ay! Entregeuenio, ay Dios mio, al cabezon!) of Lorca, and started crying when the guard (Kyle Ferrill) sings to Lorca to confess and didn’t stop until after the volley of gunshots ended. Oh, and (I thought I cried only three times), as Margarita sings out her death.

I came to Dawn Upshaw the way many of us non-opera (or new-to-opera) do, via Gorecki’s Symphony no. 3, ‘Sorrowful Songs’. I heard it in the movie Fearless, and paid close attention to the closing credits for the song. I was am (still) only very slowly making my way into opera, but I was caught by this music. Now, whether that was due to Gorecki or Upshaw, I don’t know, although I have pursued both the composer and the soprano.

The draw of this program was not only Upshaw, however, but also Golijov. I first read about his St Mark’s Passion many years ago (still haven’t heard it), and his name stayed with me. A few years ago I heard an interview with him, and the interview featured extensive excerpts from Ayre and Ainadamar. Oh! I think it was a dual interview, with both Golijov and Upshaw. Rekindle interest in Upshaw. Rekindle interest in Golijov. Buy the cds.

So I thought I knew what I was getting into today. (I brought kleenex, fer cryin’ out loud!) But I was tossed back in my seat by the power of the live performance itself. To sit in an auditorium with a few hundred other people and watch and listen to these men and women give themselves wholly over to the music, to us—oh, I had forgotten what it was to witness such fearlessness, to be enveloped by such naked sound.

There was no irony, no detachment in this performance. Yes, there is the physical distance between the stage and the seating, but Upshaw and O’Connor and Montoya (and Emily Albrink, as Nuria, Margarita’s student) did not stand back from their characters or this music. Conductor Robert Spano swivelled his hips along the sinuous line of Golijov’s music, which seemed distracting at first, but I came to see less as indulgence than his entire body responding to the opera. And at the end! I’d forgotten the great and furious charge of the orchestra at the end, and watched as the double-bassists bent over their instruments, following the movement down and across the strings.

So much more to say. The tenderness between Margarita and Nuria, as first Margarita leads her student, then the student holds up the teacher. The sexiness of ‘A la Habana’ as Margarita and Lorca imagine ‘alegria, coral y tambor, ay!’ And, noticing, as Margarita sings ‘Adios’, Lorca and Nuria, sitting off to the side, holding hands.

And the long silence at the end, as we all waited, waited, waited, before the clapping began.

To give oneself wholly over to the moment—that is a gift worthy of ovation.