Opera review: Scottish Opera: Ainadamar, Theatre Royal, Glasgow

As our arts companies brace themselves for expected cuts, Scottish Opera bring us a spectacular hit, writes Ken Walton

Scottish Opera: Ainadamar, Theatre Royal, Glasgow *****

Fed up with the unending misery of divisive politics, grim economics and grey autumn weather? Then let Scottish Opera whisk you off to an exotic, if still troubled, world in this gritty, impassioned UK stage premiere of Osvaldo Golijov’s Anaidamar, co-presented with Opera Ventures.

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It’s not the cheeriest of works, dealing with the life, death-by-execution and legacy of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, expressed in traditionally-inspired song and dance, and through the eyes of his actress muse Margarita Xirgu and her pupil Nuria.

Alfredo Tejada (Ruiz Alonso) in Ainadamar PIC: James Glossop
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But in her first-ever opera direction, Brazilian choreographer Deborah Colker and her crack mixed-media creative team extract gratifyingly colourful optimism. It’s a simultaneous hit on all the senses, combining the noble passions of opera with the instant-fix adrenalin of a West End musical.

The aesthetic conflict is captivating. A guttural scene-setting drone emerges from the luxuriously populated Scottish Opera Orchestra under conductor Stuart Stratford, loaded with additional percussion, ample brass and Spanish guitar. The action emerging from the darkened stage, mostly contained within a circular glistening string curtain on which projected images are a magical amplification of the narrative, is a triumph of synthesis.

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The whole production is a spellbinding unification of opposites, with a musical vocabulary that throws together earthy chorus numbers, smokey rumbas and lavish Puccini-esque set pieces; flamenco dancers stamping and agitating to the orchestra’s percussive engine room; and a singing ensemble at ease with Colker’s edgy choreography (if a little underpowered in their opening scene).

At the heart of this intoxicating cocktail are the seductive Lauren Fagan as Margarita, Julieth Lozano as the adoring Nuria, Samantha Hankey’s otherworldly Lorca and the searing thrill of Alfredo Tejeda’s authentic flamenco singing.

As our arts companies brace themselves for expected cuts, Scottish Opera brings us a spectacular hit.