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LGBTQ Recs Month

Celebrate the queerest month of the year...


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Opera: Ainadamar
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eccentricweft wrote in lgbtq_recs
If you've ever listened to classical opera, you know there are basically two plots:
1) Comedy. After a series of implausible misunderstandings, the happy lovers get married at the end, while joyously singing and dancing.
2) Tragedy. After a series of implausible disasters, the doomed lovers die at the end, either before they can get married or immediately after.
It's pretty much mindlessly heteronormative, and often offensively Eurocentric, even if you like the music itself.

But wait! Modern opera is better! There are operas about contemporary events, and operas inspired by non-Western cultures! There are operas that have nothing to do with romance! Really, this was news to me; until just a few months ago I had no idea so much opera was still being written, and that it dealt with subjects that were actually interesting.

One of these is Ainadamar by Osvaldo Golijov, an Argentinian composer. The title means "fountain of tears" and it's about the 1936 assassination of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca.

I've never studied Garcia Lorca's poetry but apparently it has lots of homoerotic imagery, which roused suspicions that he was gay; the short bios I've read mostly assume that he was. Both that and his politics made him an enemy of the Nationalists during the Spanish civil war. Ainadamar doesn't examine his sexual identity directly, but it's full of gender-related themes.

The main character is Margarita Xirgu, a Spanish actress who collaborated with Garcia Lorca, taking the lead in plays he wrote which were thinly-veiled statements of their shared political beliefs. Opposite her, Golijov wrote Garcia Lorca as a 'trouser role' -- in opera that means a male character whose part is written for a female voice.

So the duets between Xirgu and Garcia Lorca -- which are exceedingly tender -- are sung by two women, instead of a man and a woman. That by itself makes me very happy! It's a double echo: intimacy between men, in the person of Garcia Lorca, and intimacy between women.

The other two important roles are Nuria, an actress-in-training being mentored by Margarita Xirgu, and Ruiz Alonso, the Nationalist officer who was (historians believe) the person who ordered Garcia Lorca's assassination. The chorus is entirely female. Since Garcia Lorca is sung by a woman, Ruiz Alonso is the only significant male voice: is this meant to suggest there's a connection between men and violence, and between women and non-violence? Or straight!Ruiz Alonso = violence and tyranny, vs. gay!Garcia Lorca = peaceful protest and artistic expression?

Other reasons to love this opera: the music! Opera with flamenco! The role of Margarita Xirgu was created by Dawn Upshaw, who has the most beautiful voice ever: I will listen to her sing anything. The most shocking moment of the piece is the actual execution. Gunshots explode from nowhere, startling me every time I hear the piece. They go on and on, resolving into a driving rhythm that continues for several minutes. Margarita's shock and grief, immediately after, are powerfully like a woman in childbirth: life and death intermingled.

So, this is not a happy-happy opera, but there's intensity, haunting music, achingly lovely women's voices, and a memorial to a man who confronted power in several of its forms. And if you still need convincing, it's only 80 minutes long, half the usual length of this genre.

There's a recording of Ainadamar from Deutsche Grammophon available on Amazon. Also, if you live in the U.S. midwest region, the Cincinnati Opera will be performing Ainadamar as part of a summer festival on July 11 and 13!
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I'm a lover of classical opera, and generally avoid the modern kind. But I'll give this one a try. It sounds intriguing.

Same here! But it sounds intriguing... M.

Lee, I don't think it's going to be your cuppa, but definitely go for it! Golijov is one of my favorite composers of new music. At the very least you'll enjoy the performances of Dawn Upshaw and Kelley O'Connor!

I feel like I should add that I do enjoy the music of classical opera! And I love going to performances; the staging and the costumes and the sheer theatricality are wonderful. It's just the fixation with het romance that puts me off (and not only in opera but books, movies, and popular music too.)

This sounds so intriguing and fantastic. Something that would probably knock me out of my seat if I ever got to be lucky enough to see it live. But yeah, I know what you mean about the slightly reticent love for classical opera and how there's just this part of you that's giving critical commentary. I sat through my first opera last year (loved it) and it was Madame Butterfly which kind of made me cringe in the midst of all the set/costume loveliness and dramatic score because even if I expected it, just...it's never going to escape the orientalist trappings of its story.

Um but yes, hello derailing with personal story of little relevance. Thank you for bringing this opera to the community's attention. I will definitely be on the look out for it (as a recording, a performance, whatever!). And it's so fun having different forms of artistry represented amongst the recommendations.

I didn't think that was derailing! Madame Butterfly is example #1 in my mind of classical opera Eurocentrism.

I'm enjoying the recs too, in fact I'm heading to the bookstore this afternoon to see if I can find any of the titles folks have posted about so far!

YES. THIS!

Love Osvaldo Golijov and love this opera. I wonder if I could get to Cincinnati to see it this summer?

Not to hijack this post but are you familiar with Golijov's song cycle, Ayre? If you're a Dawn Upshaw fan, you MUST get this recording. :)

I would *love* to get to Cincinnati and have even looked at flights... The dates are between two other trips I have to make, though, and realistically I don't think I can squeeze it in. If you get to go, I'd love to hear about it!

OH YES. I've listened to Ayre (a library copy) and it's on my list to buy someday. It's wonderful. In turn I can recommend Oceana. Some of it is only instrumental (the Kronos Quartet) but those parts are beautiful too, and Dawn Upshaw is incredible as always!

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