Sunday, January 22, 2006

Lorca Returns to New York

Standing the Whole World on Its Ear,” an article by Jeremy Eichler in today’s New York Times, makes me wish I could go to New York this afternoon to see Osvaldo Golijov’s new opera, Ainadamar, named for the “Fountain of Tears” near Granada where Federico García Lorca was killed in 1936. Interestingly, the main character in the opera is not Lorca, but Margarita Xirgu, the great Spanish actress for whose voice Lorca wrote some of the greatest roles in his plays.

The New York production was directed by Peter Sellars, and much of what Sellars says about it seems just as relevant to poetry as to music:

“The high energy in Bartok and Stravinsky’s music was this ethnic energy, a Jewish energy, a Gypsy energy, and it was precisely the energy that was literally exterminated in the death camps of Europe,” Mr. Sellars said. “It is what has been missing from most European music for a while. It’s that huge, unbearable melody of lament which is devastating and life-affirming at the same time. Which is, of course, a huge tradition of Jewish music, and which has been missing in action. Osvaldo has brought it back from Eastern Europe, through Israel, through Argentina. It is transformed but still wailing.”

Mr. Golijov speaks of the traditional synagogues he attended in Argentina and Jerusalem as a primary musical model, less for their liturgical melodies than for the churning energy he heard emerging from the semi-chaos of a restless congregation engaged in a thousand varieties of prayer. “You enter,” he said, “and somebody’s screaming, somebody’s mumbling, somebody’s meditating, and you don’t know how, but they suddenly start singing the same tune.”
I don’t know about you, but that strikes me as an exciting image of what poetry could be.

[Later attempt at clarification:] What really interests me is the idea that a lot of avant-garde music and poetry has a bloodless, cerebral quality, and Sellars' connecting that to the actual shedding of blood and persecution of Jews and other minorities in the 20th century—in effect that fascism had a destructive impact on the arts that the arts have yet to fully recover from, and the destructive impact is seen in the arts' being overly cerebral, not yet able to be fully human again, not yet able to scream and mumble and meditate and sing all at once.

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