Ainadamar – The story of Spanish poet Lorca and his fountain of tears

Ainadamar – The story of Spanish poet Lorca and his fountain of tears

By Diane Parkes

Welsh National Opera’s production of Ainadamar tells the story of one of Spain’s most famous poets and playwrights – Federico García Lorca.

Lorca, who was left wing and gay, was targeted by the Fascist forces during the Spanish Civil War and is believed to have been killed in the vicinity ofthe well of Ainadamar, which is Arabic for Fountain of Tears, near his home city of Granada. Despite numerous attempts to discover the full facts of his assassination and place of burial, Lorca’s death remains shrouded in mystery.

Composed by Argentinian musician Osvaldo Golijov, the opera not only explores Lorca’s life and death through the memories of his friend and muse actress Margarita Xirgu, it also highlights Lorca’s great love of Andalusian folklore, history and music – particularly flamenco.

And it is the multi-faceted nature of Lorca’s character which ensures he is such a pleasure to portray, says Polish mezzo-soprano Hanna Hipp, who plays the poet in the opera which opens at Wales Millennium Centre on September 9.

“It’s always a big treat for an artist to be given a role which is so complex,” she says. “Lorca is a historical character and yet he speaks a very loud volume, particularly in the political context of today’s world.

“I think a role like this helps to wake people up and remind them that no freedom is ever given permanently and one has to regard it and protect it at all cost. When an artist is given a voice to talk about these things which are so relevant today, that is when art becomes really vocal and has a purpose.

“I was very lucky to play Offred in The Handmaid’s Tale in Copenhagenso this is the second role which is very current in terms of the political climate. You see how these freedoms are at risk in so many countries where popularism is becoming present.”

Hanna also feels a sense of responsibility to ensure audiences are watching a Lorca they can relate to.

“We are dealing with a human who existed and perished and vanished and there is a mystery around his death and his execution. So I think one has to really invest in doing the research and making the character as real as possible. I am trying to base the character on truth as much as possible.

“But I think through his writing and his drawing we can sense what kind of person Lorca was. To me he was definitely a representation of enlightenment of that period because he was not only a fantastic poet, playwright and stage director, but he also played the piano, he learned guitar, he drew and his drawings were exhibited, and he also produced some stage set designs.

“So one sees how versatile he was in all the art forms and it gives you a peek of the character with all of the colours. He was also an advocate for Andalusian folklore, especially flamenco, so it is so good to have this opera as a tribute to what he was trying to achieve in his life.”

The part of Lorca is what is known as a ‘trouser’ role, that is, a male character performed by a woman. Hanna has built up a strong reputation for trouser roles including Cherubino in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro, Octavian in Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier and Hansel in Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. And she believes Lorca is a different type of trouser role from the usual.

“I’ve been very fortunate to do some fabulous trouser roles so I have a lot now in my repertoire, I love them dearly,” she says. “It’s wonderful to be given an opportunity to be a different gender for the duration of the rehearsal period as well as on stage. It’s a totally different way of moving your body, you lead, if I may say so, from the crotch, so it’s a completely different way of walking, the physicality changes immensely.

“But this one is especially interesting. I need to get the balance right so that the audience understands I am embracing the trouser role but also the homosexuality which is important because probably in the end this was one of the reasons why Lorca perished.

“So how much does one bring of the feminine side of Lorca, who apparently was quite feminine and quite open about his sexuality and homosexuality at the time? This is a fine line, how to bring the character into life, remaining masculine and also bring the elements of the feminine as well.”

Directed by Deborah Colker, who is best known for choreographing dance and Cirque du Soleil shows, Ainadamar also requires the singers to pull on their dance shoes, performing flamenco alongside professional dancers. For Hanna it is a challenge – but one she relishes.

“This is the first time I’m doing something like this with such specific dance in an opera,” she says. “There’s a lot of emphasis on getting the music right and the fan work correct to make the show as authentic as possible. It’s quite a big task as it’s not my culture at all but we want to stay true to the piece and really dive into it.

“Fortunately I’m blessed that I have colleagues who are fabulous dancers and that is a real help. I watch their moves and learn from them, taking those movements on board while creating this character.”

And although she plays one of the leads, Hanna says all the cast are integral to the success of the production.

“The show is a big ensemble piece. There are of course some characters highlighted at the forefront but we are all supposed to blend as a single organism – dancing, moving scenery, singing and clapping. I think of my character in this show as having a role and a voice but also being part of one organism and one landscape of Spain so we really feel we are in that space.

“This is going to be such a stunning show. It is an incredible spectacle where one is taken into the swirl of the rhythms and it’s fabulous to see what the body and voice can do.”

Ainadamar was premiered in 2003 at the Tanglewood Festival in the USA and this new production is co-produced by WNO, Opera Ventures, Scottish Opera, Detroit Opera and The Metropolitan Opera. It was initially staged in Scotland in November 2022 with some cast changes – the first time Ainadamar had been performed live in the UK. The 80-minute WNO production tours to venues in Cardiff, Birmingham, Plymouth, Bristol, Milton Keynes and Southampton.

It has been a new discovery for Hanna. “I was quite surprised when I listened to it for the first time,” she says. “The score is fabulous, it’s so alive and the rhythms of it and the instrumentation, one really wants to dance to it but I think it also has gravitas. There are moments of light and hope in this story but ultimately everything is leading towards the end which is really tragic and mysterious.”

 Ainadamar is performed at The Mayflower Theatre, Southampton on 22 November and plays alongside Verdi’s La traviata until 25 November:

  • In Common is not for profit. We rely on donations from readers to keep the site running. Could you help to support us for as little as 25p a week? Please help us to carry on offering independent grass roots media. Visit: