From music to theater and dance, the Greek Festival celebrates its 56th anniversary this summer. Founded in 1955 as the Athens Festival, its bar was set high right from the start, with Dimitris Mitropoulos leading the New York Philharmonic in one of the event’s curtain-raising performances. It has since hosted living legends including Maria Callas, Rudolf Nureyev and Margot Fonteyn.
In its current form, the event faces the challenge of attracting younger audiences, with Giorgos Loukos, president of the organization’s board of directors, seeking a balance between established and avant-garde works.
The festival’s foundations were originally built on great orchestras and Greek drama with dance entering the picture later on. Besides luring local and international audiences to Athens and Epidaurus, the event has also acted as a platform for Greek artists to meet their foreign counterparts.
Here are some of the festival’s summer 2014 highlights:
The Kyklos Ensemble, led for the first time by Greek-born, Russia-based Teodor Currentzis, will perform Schubert’s “Winterreise,” a composed interpretation for tenor and small orchestra by Hans Zender, at the Athens Concert Hall on June 14-15. The event is billed as a multimedia performance.
Nana Mouskouri, the best-selling Greek singer of all times, will bring her “Happy Birthday Tour” to the Herod Atticus Theater on July 14. Joined by her daughter Lenou and other musicians, Mouskouri will celebrate what she refers to as her “good fortune in having got so far in life thanks to my songs, their creators and the love of the people.”
Legendary “laiko” (urban folk music) vocalist Mary Linda will take to the Herod Atticus stage on June 25 for a trip down memory lane. A veteran singer, Mary Linda is best known for her work alongside bouzouki composer Manolis Chiotis.
A music tribute to Charlie Chaplin will take place at the Herod Atticus Theater on June 23, with a screening of the master director’s 1925 silent comedy “The Gold Rush” and the film’s original music – penned by Charlot himself – performed by the Athens State Orchestra under Miltos Logiadis.
In the opera department, the Greek National Opera and director Yiannis Houvardas will present Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” at the Herod Atticus on June 11, 13, 14 and 15, while the Armonia Atenea led by George Petrou will perform Johann Adolph Hasse’s “Siroe” at the Athens Concert Hall on June 26 and 27 and July 5. A second Greek National Opera production, Verdi’s “Otello,” will go on stage at the Herod Atticus Theater on July 27-29 and 31, directed by Yannis Kokkos.
On stage in Athens
Internationally acclaimed French actress Isabelle Huppert will lead the cast in Pierre De Marivaux’s play “The False Secrets,” in which an impoverished gentleman falls for a rich widow, at the Onassis Cultural Center on June 12-14.
Meanwhile, Ireland’s Fiona Shaw will return to the Greek Festival in a theatrical version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Rime of the Ancient Mariner,” on June 24 and 25 at the Pireos 260 venue. Shaw first performed the work – in which the hero’s adventures in the Antarctic reflect humanity’s search for meaning – at the Little Theater of Ancient Epidaurus in 2012.
China’s Liyuan Experimental Opera Theater will perform “The Widow and the Man of Letters,” by Wang Renjie and You Fengwei, at Pireos 260 on June 21-22. Dating to the 14th century, the Liyuan Opera uses spoken language, song, codified movement and Nanyin music – the latter features on UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage list.
Isabella Rossellini’s “Green Porno,” a play co-penned with Jean-Claude Carriere, will go on stage at the Pireos 260 venue on June 24-26. Billed as a humorous monologue on animal sexuality, the production is based on a series of short films about animals developed by the actress and subsequently adapted for the stage by Carriere. A documentary-theater work inspired by crisis Greece, Thodoris Gonis’s “The Suffering of the Unemployed and the Right to Laziness,” will be performed by the Kavala Municipal Regional Theater at the Pireos 260 venue on June 8-9.
The Trisha Brown Dance Company is one of the stellar acts on the festival’s dance agenda. Brown, a leading figure in contemporary American dance, will present a series of works, “Watermotor,” “Son of Gone Fishin’,” “Rogues” and “For MG: The Movie,” at the Pireos 260 venue on July 11-12.
Innovative Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian will present “East Shadow” at the Pireos 260 venue on June 28-29. Taking its cue from Samuel Beckett’s Theater of the Absurd, the production is defined as a tragicomedy exploring the impossibility of coexistence and the inevitability of mortality.
Meanwhile, barefoot men and women clad in tutus will take popular ballet “Swan Lake” to a refreshing new level thanks to a choreography by young South African Dada Masilo. The performance, based on music by Tchaikovsky, will go on stage at Pireos 260 on June 7-9.
Drama at Epidaurus
Built in 340 BC – according to Pausanias – the Ancient Theater of Epidaurus has long been an ideal venue for antique drama and comedy, not least thanks to its acoustics and location. Among the productions going on stage at the ancient theater this year is Aeschylus’ “Prometheus Bound,” directed by relative newcomer Ektoras Lygizos (July 12), Sophocles’ “Philoctetes” in a production of the Municipal Regional Theater of Patras and Aptivities directed by Costas Filippoglou (July 18-19), Euripides’ “Hippolytus” in a National Theater of Greece production directed by actress-director Lydia Koniordou on July 25-26, as well as a State Theater of Northern Greece production of Aeschylus’ “The Persians” directed by Nikaiti Kontouri on August 15-16.
For information regarding events, venues and tickets, visit www.greekfestival.gr.