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Ainadamar: Passing the Torch

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Aaron Cain: I'm Aaron Cain, for WFIU Arts. IU Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater presents Ainadamar, continuing this weekend at the Musical Arts Center. And the composer of this work, Osvaldo Golijov, recently visited the IU campus, and I got the chance to speak with him for a few minutes before last weekend's premiere.

Aaron Cain: Osvaldo Golijov thank you so much for speaking with me today. 

Osvaldo Golijov: Thank you.

Aaron Cain: And welcome to Bloomington. 

Osvaldo Golijov: Right! Thank you. 

Aaron Cain: So, what sorts of things have you done since you arrived here?

Osvaldo Golijov:  A lot. Let's see. I…I spoke to a class in Latin American music, then I gave two sessions of composition lessons to about seven students. I attended the two dress rehearsals of Ainadamar because there are two different casts. I rehearsed a little bit a quartet of mine that was performed last night. And then had beautiful interactions with faculty. Really, I love this place. The energy, the level of activity, and… and the level of care that everybody puts. You know, it's really…touching, yeah.

Aaron Cain: This is the first opera that you've composed. 

Osvaldo Golijov: So far, it's the only one. [laughter]

Aaron Cain: So far, the only one. What I'm curious about is which came first? The desire to compose an opera, or the desire to bring this story, this subject, to life, musically, in some way? 

Osvaldo Golijov: You know, my…my life has been a series of accidents, I think. I didn't have the thought, ‘I want to write an opera.’ I never imagined that I would write a passion, you know? But Tanglewood asked, ‘would you write an opera?’ And I said, ‘sure.’ And then: what do I love? What do I care for? And…and I love Lorca and I am very…struck by, first of all, by how someone who died in 1936 can be still so alive in his poetry and plays in Spain and elsewhere in the world. But also the tragedy of a country that gives birth to its greatest poet and the same soil that gives birth to him, swallows him, you know, in the Civil War. And the realization that the Civil war in Spain was kind of the progenitor, the mother of The Dirty War in Argentina that I lived when I was a teenager. So these are questions, right? Questions. I think that a dramatic piece is a series of questions that don't necessarily need to be answered, but just explored. 

Aaron Cain:  When you began working on this opera, you had a text by an American playwright that you translated. What was that experience like? 

Osvaldo Golijov: I was so lucky to work with David [Henry] Hwang. You know, yesterday I was at the dress rehearsal and saying, ‘this libretto is incredible!’ The thing is, when we were doing it there was no time. So, he would literally be faxing me page by page as he was writing. [laughter] This is the times of the faxes, right? Why did I translate it to Spanish? Simply because I can write a song in English, but I don't feel  I can write an opera in English. I feel that in opera you have to know the language so that everything makes sense in the music. You know, you have to live the language. And in Spanish, I live it. And it's part of my nature. I'm not the only one who associates how good a piece is with how much fun you had writing it. Or doing it, you know. So, Ainadamar was complicated because I was so stressed with time and…and I felt that some people did not believe in me at the time. And it's like having a child that gives you a lot of trouble. Not that you don't love the child, but it's like, ‘oh, man.’ [laughter] But now, 20 years later, and I've seen it performed so many times. And I was amazed at what students can do, right? And…and I think, ‘wow, this is actually a good piece!’ And it's alive, and it speaks to these young people, right? That are doing it. All I wanted to do when I wrote the piece was to have one good Alto area that would make it into the side B of an Alto compilation of Arias, you know? [laughter] But, I think, thanks to David, the librettist, it is a real opera. 

Aaron Cain:  Since you composed it, having had the chance to see it a few more times, as you say, how does the musical language of this opera strike you when compared to the musical language of some of your other works? 

Osvaldo Golijov: Yeah, I mean, I…okay, so it's been 20 years, so it's almost like when somebody shows you a picture of yourself 20 years ago, right? It's like, ‘yeah, yeah I know that person,’ but it's almost a different person. But you are the same, too, right? So, I feel as I got older, I got so much more knowledgeable and…and in a way that is perhaps not so good. Because I was more ignorant then, but more mischievous, more blunt, more courageous, even, you know? So, I want to go back, not to that musical language, the notes, but to that more carefree attitude. I mean, I think I took more risks. I just was very curious. ‘Okay, what if we do this? What if we bring this flamenco cantar? And what if we have bullets?’ And very visceral things that I want to recover? It's not that I want to be young again, but, yes, to recover the earthiness and viscerality that a piece like this has. 

Aaron Cain:  You mentioned before that you did not originally picture yourself ever writing an opera…

Osvaldo Golijov: …right…

Aaron Cain:  …or writing a Passion. So that is a work that you did. That Pasión según San Marcos, part of the Passion 2000 Project to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Johann Sebastian Bach. Some have compared this opera, Ainadamar, to a Passion play or, say, to one of Bach’s Passions…

Osvaldo Golijov: …true…

Aaron Cain: …both structurally and in tone.

Osvaldo Golijov: Yeah.

Aaron Cain: Would you agree with that? 

Osvaldo Golijov: Yes! Yes, it's interesting. I think that [laughs], in a way, my Passion is more like an opera and my opera is more like a Passion, you know? But they both--in some way they are the same topic: the death of a son, or a son figure, right? Jesus, the son of God, Lorca, the metaphorical son of Margarita Xirgu, the main character in the opera. 

Aaron Cain: And also an artistic son of Spain. 

Osvaldo Golijov: Exactly. Yes, yes.

Aaron Cain: You know, a Nation's son. 

Osvaldo Golijov: Yes, yes. Somebody that--both Lorca   and Jesus lived to their 30s, right? And did so much. 

Aaron Cain: In what way is this piece important right now, at this historical moment? 

Osvaldo Golijov: I think, first of all, in terms of…what happens when tolerance is lost, when dialogue is lost to the point of…of a war between brothers? And I think we are in a moment here in this country where--and in many other countries--where people stop talking to each other. And then violence is the next step. I think, also, it's relevant in the sense that Lorca was not a political person, was an artist who was free. And he was the voice of freedom. And that's what scared the fascists that killed him, that some people cannot tolerate freedom. And also, particularly, here in the university, there is the theme--you know, the main character, Margarita, is an old actor that is about to die, but she….she's still teaching her young student. So, the idea that an artist never finishes their work, but you can pass the torch to the next generation. So those are the things that come to mind. 

Aaron Cain: What are you excited about right now as you, the composer of this work, prepare to see it performed again? 

Osvaldo Golijov: Yeah, I'm really amazed at the level. The singers are incredible. I mean, and the production is more interesting and dramatic than many of the professional productions that I have seen. And the orchestra is…whoah! So it's like, wow, it's being played extraordinarily well by a college orchestra. Okay, it's not any college, right? It's Indiana…the School of Music. But, yeah, I'm excited that it's all these young people really bringing it to life in a level that really moves me much more than many of the professional productions that I have seen. 

Aaron Cain: Well, Osvaldo Golijov, have fun. 

Osvaldo Golijov: Thank you, thank you. 

Aaron Cain: Thank you so much for coming here and thank you so much for speaking with me today.

Osvaldo Golijov: Sure. Okay.

Aaron Cain: Composer Osvaldo Golijov. There are two more chances to see his opera Ainadamar at the Musical Arts Center: Friday and Saturday, February 10th and 11th at 7:30 PM. More information at For WFIU arts. I'm Aaron Cain. 

Composer Osvaldo Golijov meets with Students at the Jacobs School of Music

Composer Osvaldo Golijov meets with students during his visit to the Jacobs School of Music (Photo by Sarah J. Slover)

"An artist never finishes their work,
but you can pass the torch to the next generation."
- Osvaldo Golijov

IU Jacobs School of Music Opera Theater presents Ainadamar by Osvaldo Golijov, concluding the weekend of Friday, February 10 at the Musical Arts Center. The opera, which won two Grammy Awards in 2007, presents the impassioned story of Spanish poet and playwright Federico García Lorca, as told by his close friend and muse, actress Margarita Xirgu, during the last moments of her life.

Lorca was executed by Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War at a spring in the foothills of Granada—Ainadamar (the Spanish pronunciation of the Arabic name Ayn al-Dam, meaning 'The Fountain of Tears').

Osvaldo Golijov was in Bloomington for the premiere of the work. While on the IU campus, Golijov met with faculty and students, taught composition classes, and attended dress rehearsals. WFIU Music director Aaron Cain got the chance to speak with the composer a few hours before he attended the opening weekend’s performance.

More information about Ainadamar can be found at

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