Lorca and the cante jondo

16 November 2023

Our new opera, Ainadamar, explores the life of Federico García Lorca, told retrospectively by his muse, Margarita Xirgu. Composed by Osvaldo Golijov, Ainadamar is a unique work, creating a soundworld of classical music with Spanish, Arabic and Jewish influences scattered throughout, and the startling rhythms of flamenco are central to the entire atmosphere of the opera. Directed by the acclaimed Deborah Colker, Ainadamar brings the passion and sorrow of flamenco into the world of opera.

Originating in the southernmost region of Spain, what we now know as flamenco stems from the song and dance introduced to the Iberian peninsula by the Roma migration from Rajasthan between the 9th and 14th centuries. Mingling with the rich cultures already present in Spain, the essence of flamenco slowly developed from its myriad of influences into the music and dance that are so familiar to us in the present day.

During his life, Lorca was a skilled musician, and his poems often mirrored the rhythm of cante jondo (deep song), seen throughout his highly commended work, including Gypsy Ballads and Poema del cante jondo. The way that these works follow the rhythm of traditional Andalusian folk songs exemplify Lorca’s love affair with flamenco, and his intention in maintaining and promoting this Spanish art.

Among the spread and increasing popularity of flamenco, accelerated by the founding of numerous cafés cantantes established in the early 20th century, there was a worry that the cante jondo was under threat as the commercialised variant of flamenco increased in popularity. Lorca, alongside a group of his intellectual contemporaries, created the Concurso de Cante Jondo, an event to celebrate the cante jondo, and held the event in the Alhambra in Granada in June 1922. While well-known professionals were invited to perform in the two-night event, the competitive parts of proceedings were only open to amateur singers who performed original cante jondo.

Following the Spanish Civil War in the 1930’s, and Lorca’s assassination in 1936, flamenco was disavowed by the Francoist government and the Catholic Church, attempting to steer Spanish culture away from the perceived evils and apparently un-Catholic nature of the artform. Folk dancing and singing were encouraged in an effort to create a new kind of national identity for Spain under the new Government. By the 50’s, after following a policy of isolationism, Spain needed to improve its economy, and decided that the most effective way to increase its tourism was to revert to what they considered to be ‘Spanish stereotypes’.

So, flamenco became one of Spain’s celebrated artforms once more, and has attracted attention and acclaim from across the world. Ainadamar blends the flamenco rhythms and cante jondo beloved by Lorca with the incredible music of opera to tell his story. Don’t miss your chance to see Golijov’s Spanish spectacle this Autumn in Southampton until Wednesday 22 November.