One also needs time before "Ainadamar" to learn from the program what the performance, no longer narrative, does not tell you. Sellars' staging has taken on ritualistic character. A chorus of wailing women wave arms (not terribly well), expressing the tolling of bells and the pain of mourning. Upshaw, sounding splendid, takes us through the excruciating yet liberating end of life. Her final moments are spent lying on the floor twitching, while a haunting interlude for two Arab guitars and orchestra floats through the theater. During the performance a strong breeze of sensuously soft, warm air entered with the guitars, and the effect was shattering and comforting at the same time.
Lorca, in an outrageous powder blue suit, comes through the opera as if in a dream. His death is a nightmare. The shooting of Lorca, the teacher and the bullfighter is replayed over and over again against an electronic fugue of gunshots. Kelley O'Connor, who sang Lorca as one of the student performers in Tanglewood, sang Lorca again. She is now an apprentice singer at Santa Fe Opera, but this performance gives notice that her apprenticeship is over. Her dark, low mezzo-soprano and expressive stage presence are those of a riveting singer emerged, not emerging. Jessica Rivera, another apprentice, sang Nuria with a gorgeous high soprano.
Golijov's score is now whole and amazing, in its opening distant trumpet calls, its insinuating dance rhythms, its vital command of percussion and its arrestingly beautiful arias for women's voice. The end is a devastatingly lush trio, with the voices of Lorca and Margarita from beyond guiding the way for Nuria.
Miguel Harth-Bedoya, who also conducted "Ainadamar" in Los Angeles, led what may be the finest moment of his young career in a performance of ideally flowing lines. He will not, unfortunately, be the one who makes the recording of the opera. That will be Robert Spano and the Atlanta Symphony, which will perform "Ainadamar" in concert at next summer's Ojai Festival.
Santa Fe Opera does not do everything right. The gossip around town is about the interior decorator with musical connections (he did violinist Joshua Bell's apartment) who got to direct this summer's critically panned opening production of "Turandot." But in "Ainadamar," the company recognized the greatness inherent in a failed opera and did something about it.
And it has done so proudly. "Ainadamar" is sung in Spanish and gives in its seat titles your choice of English or Spanish. The company, moreover, spent the weekend producing a variety of relevant events that included a reading of "Mariana Pineda," starring the Broadway and television actress Linda Purl, and a free panel with the opera's creators that filled an 800-seat auditorium.