Avant-garde musical theatre and ancient myths 2018-10-22T09:45:07+00:00

Greek National Opera - Alternative Stage

Avant-garde musical theatre and ancient myths
Works by Xenakis, Christou, Koumentakis

The Greek National Opera Alternative Stage performs at the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus for the first time ever, giving audiences a taste of its activity, presenting three iconic works of musical theatre by avant-garde Greek composers inspired by ancient myths. Following the historic performances of 1960 and 1961, with Maria Callas as Norma and Medea, the Greek National Opera returns decades later in these hallowed grounds of theatre.

Ancient drama has been an endless source of inspiration for two of the leading composers of the 20th century: Iannis Xenakis and Jani Christou. Having composed, early in their career, music for National Theatre of Greece productions presented in Epidaurus, both composers have conceived contemporary musical theatre works drawing on ancient drama. Both Iannis Xenakis’ Kassandra (chronologically the final piece he composed for his Oresteia) and Jani Christou’s Anaparastasis I: The Baritone draw on Aeschylus, and in fact both works use the extant ancient text.

Giorgos Koumentakis also draws on an ancient text, in this case Homer’s, in his short, youthful opera The Day Will Come…, a highly demanding work on a musical and a vocal level, epitomizing the achievements of the avant-garde scene of the last few decades.

In all three works, the antiquity provides the material and the springboard for a dive into archetypes and an unconditional opening up to the future.

Contributing to this debut of the Alternative Stage at the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus are the accomplished director Ektoras Lygizos, who has presented his work in Epidaurus twice already; the up-and-coming principal conductor Yorgos Ziavras, who has made successful worldwide appearances; acclaimed actors, such as Yannis Stankoglou in his first ever foray into contemporary musical theatre, and the stars of the Greek National Opera Dionyssis Sourbis and Myrsini Margariti. The first two works will be directed by the artistic director of the Greek National Opera Alternative Stage, Alexandros Efklidis. Ergon ensemble, one of the most established contemporary music ensembles, acclaimed in Greece and abroad, will also perform. Marinos Tranoudakis, principal timpanist of the orchestra of the Greek National Opera will perform the demanding percussion sheet music of Kassandra.

Kassandra (1987) by Iannis Xenakis

Xenakis’ Oresteia was created in 1966 and completed in 1987 with the addition of the Kassandra scene. Far from being an accurate adaptation of Aeschylus’ tragedy, this work is an idiosyncratic response to the poetic power of the play and arguable the fruit of the composer’s deep relationship with antiquity. Kassandra marks the only occasion (along with the monologue of Athena, also written for baritone Spyros Sakkas) in which Xenakis revisited an earlier work to revise and update it. Kassandra constitutes a study on the prosody of the ancient text, which Xenakis devotedly follows as the basis of his compositions, pushing the performer to vocal extremes, accompanied only by a solo percussionist and a psaltery, a plucked stringed instrument played by the baritone.

Anaparastasis Ι: The baritone by Jani Christou

Written in 1968, the text comprises the first seven lines from Aeschylus’ tragedy Agamemnon. In the beginning, an exhausted and worried watchman has been waiting for over a year at the roof of the palace in Argos for a sign signalling the fall of Troy in the hands of the Greeks. Having an accurate depiction of the watchman by the soloist or being immersed into the setting of Aeschylus’ tragedy is not within the goals of this work. The text serves more as a vehicle, with the soloist attempting to utter the words, as if they were incantations. Instead of accompanying the performer, the ensemble actively partakes in the ritual.

The Day Will Come... (1986) by Giorgos Koumentakis

The opera The Day Will Come…, with the explanatory subtitle “imitation of action in six episodes,” was written twice: once in 1986 to be performed at Heraklion and once again in 1995 for the Argos Festival. The first version did not contain any choral parts, which were later added in the second version (text and music). The opera revolves around the fall of Troy thanks to the Trojan Horse ploy and Odysseus’ cool-headedness, as recounted by Menelaus and Helen to Telemachus in Book 4 of the Odyssey. In its original edition, the opera consisted of six episodes: War and death in Ilion – Prophecy about the fall of Troy – Hector’s death – The Trojan Horse – The destruction of Troy – Exodus: The human fate. Four out of these six episodes (the first, second, third, and fifth) draw entirely on the Iliad, the fourth episode draws on the Odyssey, and the sixth episode draws on both Homeric epics.