Ainadamar is an Arabic word meaning ‘fountain of tears’. It is one of the names of a natural spring located in the hills above the Spanish city of Granada. This is the site where the poet and playwright Federico García Lorca was executed in 1936.
Margarita Xirgu, a veteran Spanish actress and Lorca’s muse, spent her career portraying Mariana Pineda in Lorca’s play of the same name. Pineda was a 19th century political martyr executed for sewing a revolutionary flag against the absolutist Spanish regime with the embroidered slogan ‘Equality, Freedom and Law’. Mariana Pineda was Lorca’s first theatrical success and a love letter to a woman who pursues her convictions to their ultimate consequences, evoking the colour and poetry of Andalusia and especially of Lorca’s own Granada. Lorca asked Xirgu to play the title role at the premiere in June 1927, at the Teatre Goya in Barcelona with scenic design and costumes by Salvador Dalí.
Xirgu fled Spain at the beginning of the Civil War but Lorca refused to leave. His liberal beliefs and open homosexuality subsequently led to his death at the hands of the Falange, the fascist party founded by the son of former Spanish dictator General Primo de Rivera. Xirgu then gave her life to playing Mariana Pineda and to keeping Lorca’s words alive.
The opera is told through Xirgu’s memories in a series of flashbacks as the past invades the present. As the opera begins, Margarita Xirgu prepares once again to go on stage as Mariana Pineda as a group of young actresses sing the opening ballad. She remembers the brilliance of Lorca to her young student Nuria, recalling her meeting with Lorca in a bar in Madrid where he describes his play to her for the first time. Lorca idolised Pineda, whose statue could be seen from his window at the Lorca family home in Granada. The flashback is interrupted by the Falangist Ramon Ruiz Alonso, broadcasting over the state radio that his party will stamp out the beginnings of the revolution.
The Spanish Civil War has begun. Xirgu pleads with Lorca to join her and her theatre company in Cuba, but he refuses and stays in Granada. Xirgu blames herself for Lorca’s fate, since she could not convince the idealistic young man to abandon Spain. In Xirgu’s memories, she sings of her dream of finding freedom in Cuba, but Lorca insists that he must witness and write about his country’s suffering on the barricades.
Xirgu is dying. In the present, she insists on performing Pineda’s story one more time – she tells Nuria that an actor lives only for a moment, but the idea of freedom will never die. A vision of Lorca interrupts her. He thanks her for immortalising his spirit on stage, in the hearts of her students, and for the world.
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