You descend stairs and more stairs, deeper and deeper in a church, as if into burial vaults beneath the hearts of houses of worship in far, old places such as those in Spain or Latin America. In this vast, shadowy space you are immersed in glorious singing and powerful music permeated by the fire, the longing, the sorrow of flamenco soul. Argentina-born famed composer Osvaldo Golijov has invoked such chords, such rhythm in his intense, compact opera Ainadamar. And Quantum Theatre, superbly guided by director Karla Boos, grabs your senses in this immersion into a tale of the martyrdom of Spanish poet and playwright Federico Garcia Lorca, revealed in the social hall of East Liberty Presbyterian Church.
It is not a straightforward telling. It is not intended to be. Rather,through music sung and played, through dance and gesture, it re-awakens the memory of a woman who, across the ocean from hers and Lorca’s homeland, a woman who loved him, lives out again what haunts her 33 years after he was executed. She evokes, too, an ancient well called Ainadamar where Lorca died.
But what counts, as the story unfolds and refolds, becomes how it sounds, how it looks, as if you witness a ritual, akin to those which transpire above, closer to sunlight streaming through colored windows. It sounds, it looks as strong as the faith of those who immerse themselves in those connections to heaven.
In Uruguay, self-exiled Catalan actress Margarita Xirgu describes her days with Lorca for her student Nuria. Xirgu harks back to the time of the Spanish Civil War when a play by the poet angered the generals by espousing freedom of expression, when it stood against terror. Xirgu wanted Lorca to save himself and flee. He refused. Falangist Ruiz Alonso arrested Lorca and had him killed.
Three extraordinary, brilliant Pittsburgh women supremely sing the roles of Margarita, Nuria and Lorca. They are Katy Williams, Leah Edmondsen Dyer and Raquel Winnica Young, while Carolina Loyola-Garcia, likewise from this city, dancing, stuns and stirs with her vibrant feet and puts fierce, menacing power into the role of Ruiz Alonso. As Lorca, Young also superbly reaches into lower notes enhancing a convincing portrait of a vulnerable young man whose dignity will not be trampled.
Director Boos gives every gesture, every meaning compelling clarity, making telling use of the space, her conception enriched by Joe Seamans’ imaginative video designs flashing on a screen hovering above a giant staircase. Meanwhile, he clarifies meaning, projecting translations of David Henry Hwang’s Spanish text across two other walls, putting Ruiz Alonso’s words into harsh capital letters. And sound designer Ryan McMasters adds to the depth using gunshots as counter-rhythms to the staccato stomping of feet and the rhythmic clapping of hands.
21 accomplished musicians interpret Golijov’s score with polish and skill, impressively directed by Andres Caldera. Amid them, guitarist John Marcinizyn plays with powerful beauty.
As the waters of Ainadamar cascade on the screen, you may be moved to flowing tears shed in Lorca’s memory. Yet his words remind us of his immortality. They are “I am the fountain from which you drink.” Lorca lives. Golijov too. Quantum Theatre makes it so.
Ainadamar continues through November 3rd at East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 South Highland Ave., Tickets at ShowClix 1-888-718-4253; www.quantumtheatre.com or www.showclix.com