Director Jeffrey Buchman discusses his upcoming operatic double bill

Arts / Article

Jeffrey Buchman and choreographer Rosa Mercedes.

Opera stage director Jeffrey Buchman will be overseeing a double bill of one-act operas at the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall this month: Igor Stravinsky’s “Mavra” and Osvaldo Golijov’s “Ainadamar” (“Fountain of Tears”), both under the musical direction of Alan Johnson. Here, Buchman discusses the upcoming April 14 and 16 performances.

Why and how did you choose to present two operas that are so different from each other together onstage? These are no doubt two very different types of works that perhaps don’t immediately reveal their interconnectivity. But they do share a connection that grounds them, which is that both works have major poets behind them. “Mavra,” being based on Alexander Pushkin’s “The Little House in Kolomna,” and “Ainadamar” centering around the execution of Federico Garcia Lorca. These two poets shared very interesting parallels in their work and in their life’s struggles. If I were to discuss a poet with works that have titles such as “The Gypsies” and “Ode to Liberty,” a poet who supported political movements that called for social reform and a republic to be formed that would provide equality before the law, and when we learn that this poet was killed while only in his [late] 30s, you might think I am talking about Lorca. But this was Alexander Pushkin. I was fascinated by their connections.

But the real practical question is how do we bring these works together on the stage? Knowing the comic, satirical style [of] “Mavra,” and considering Lorca’s fascination with clowns and commedia dell’arte, that seemed to me an interesting place to begin. In spite of the very heavy, death-laden themes of Lorca’s poems, he loved to make others laugh. Lorca also loved to sketch, and often drew clowns and commedia characters, showing the mask of humor that concealed great pain and weeping. As we know, tears are central to Lorca. We see that in his drawings and read it in his poetry, and that is why “Ainadamar,” being the “Fountain of Tears,” is so appropriate.

So I chose to have a troupe of clowns taking on the characters of “Mavra.” My thinking was, “How might this perhaps have been if Lorca’s theater troupe, La Barraca, were to take on Stravinsky’s opera ‘Mavra?’” And that is where I began.

Why did you choose “Ainadamar”? When I first heard Golijov’s “Ainadamar” several years ago, I knew it was a work I had to create. Its music and its message resonated with me deeply. But there was another aspect to it that had profound significance to me, in that it reflected how my personal life has intersected with my artistic life. Twenty-three years ago, I met my wife, Spanish dancer and choreographer Rosa Mercedes. We have created over 20 productions together throughout the U.S., but with her great expertise in the world of Spanish dance and her deep understanding of the culture of flamenco and its significance to Lorca, this project is without a doubt the greatest fusing of our worlds of opera and flamenco that we have had the opportunity to be involved in.

To say that Garcia Lorca was passionate about flamenco still would not express enough the importance of flamenco in his life. Together with Manuel de Falla, he created the Concurso de Cante Jondo [a flamenco celebration]. It is impossible to separate Lorca from flamenco and flamenco from Lorca. And Golijov reflects this in the many flamenco rhythms, stylistic flavors, musical instruments and even voices he incorporates in “Ainadamar.” He brilliantly brings the world of opera and flamenco together into a musical language that very appropriately expresses Lorca’s world. And so, in our production, flamenco dance is deeply integrated throughout the work as an expressive tool of emotional storytelling.

What is the Cuban and South American connection in “Ainadamar”? The Cuban and South American connection to “Ainadamar” is deep. Lorca loved Cuba. And when he left Cuba, it is reported that Lorca told his friends that in Cuba [he spent the best days of his life]. It was after his time in New York that Lorca spent three months in Cuba, and even though it was brief, the impact the Caribbean island had on him is evident.

“Ainadamar” has a beautiful fantasy scene in it where [actress] Margarita Xirgú thinks back to if she could have saved Lorca by taking him to Havana with her before the [Civil War] erupted. Dramatically, this moment offers us a chance to see Lorca beaming in his joy–his love of men, his love of Cuba. Musically, Golijov has so appropriately used the rhythm of the flamenco Guajira to express this joy.  The Guajira flamenca is one of the “cantes de ida y vuelta,” flamenco rhythms that took their influences from the Caribbean and brought them back to Spain where it took on its own flavor. In this case, the Guajira flamenca took its influence from the rhythm of Cuban music.

Lorca also has deep roots in South America as well. Margarita Xirgú [a friend of Lorca], in her exile, lived out the rest of her life in Uruguay, tirelessly promoting the works of Lorca to many generations. In the opera, Margarita Xirgú has a protégée named Nuria who carries on the torch of Xirgú’s teaching. In reality, that student more likely would have been the famous Uruguayan actress China Zorrilla. There is a stone wall that was erected as a monument to Lorca in Salto, Uruguay. China Zorrilla and Margarita Xirgú performed together in an [homage] to Lorca at this wall in 1953. I have chosen to incorporate the imagery of this wall into our production.

Do you have any special message for the audience? My hope is that my production creates an experience for the audience that stresses the importance of tolerance, freedom and equality, and the need to continue struggling for these again and again. The legacy of this struggle that is at the heart of “Ainadamar” is passed on from generation to generation through the art of expression. Whether it is [the character of Spanish heroine] Mariana Pineda embroidering a flag with the words “Ley, Libertad, Igualdad” [“Law, Liberty, Equality”] on it, or Lorca writing his play “Mariana Pineda,” or Xirgú performing and promoting Lorca’s works, or Golijov creating “Ainadamar,” or me creating productions of the work, or the students performing in it, we are all part of this legacy, as are the audiences who experience it and take its message out into their daily lives with them.

Jeffrey Buchman will direct performances of “Mavra” and “Ainadamar” at Gusman Concert Hall in Coral Gables on April 14 and 16 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available online or by calling 866-811-4111.