CULTURE

Neglected work is re-enacted

Soprano Martha Arapi, one of the National Opera’s more renowned cast members, will interpret the leading role in 19th century Greek composer Pavlos Carrer’s «Marathon-Salamis,» a 120-year-old, previously unstaged work at the Olympia Theater on Sunday. This not the first time Arapi will perform work by a Greek composer. The soprano has interpreted works by Samaras, Mitropoulos and Kalomiris, as well as operas by contemporary Greek composers, such as Thanos Mikroutsikos and Periklis Koukos. Her considerable experience as a lead performer in international repertory has served to provide Arapi with an objective vision of things, which, ultimately, is beneficial to us all. Could you comment on this forgotten work by Carrer that is now being presented 120 years after it was written. It is an opera from the romantic era with reference to ancient Greek history. The plot is set during the time of the Battle of Salamis. The title comes from the fact that the work begins with a service in remembrance of Marathon’s fallen soldiers. During the ceremony, Themistocles tries to encourage the Greeks. From then on, typical aspects of romanticism come into play as human characters with weaknesses and passions are juxtaposed against Themistocles’ heroic stature. What’s your role in the opera? I play Phedimi, a woman from Asia who was betrayed by her Greek lover and came to Athens to work as a prostitute in order to raise her child. Then, as a teacher, she is housed as a guest by Themistocles, who in turn uses her as a provider of misleading information for Xerxes’ forces. Phedimi is a prostitute with a Greek education, she has betrayed her country, and, in the end, sacrifices herself for the Greeks. The character’s pride and tragic quality must be emphasized if the role is to be properly interpreted and the emotion kept from seeming melodramatic, all of which is demanded by the music. In what language is the text? The opera will be presented as an Italian libretto, despite the fact that Greek translations exist. I, too, believe that, this way, the audience is not distanced from the work’s time period. The Greek language – especially considering that period’s idioms – would have created a frigid atmosphere and not done justice to the play. Where does the opera belong musically? It’s focused mostly on the Italian romanticism of Verdi and Donizetti. It reminds me a lot of Verdi’s «Il Corsaro,» an opera which I recently performed. It also has references to older works by Carrer, such as «Despo.» Do you think that an audience that is fond of Verdi will appreciate Carrer? I think absolutely! Anyone expecting a work from the romantic era will be fully satisfied. Also, one ought to see the production because it is worthwhile to become acquainted with a great Greek composer who represents a part of our cultural heritage. Moreover, the National Opera’s production is visually interesting. The director, Isidoros Sideris, has deeply researched the topic and interpreted its conditions very well, while the stage and costume design by Yiannis Metzikoff project the opera’s timelessness. How do you feel as the main vocalist in such an unprecedented work? Perhaps it’s better this way. The study of a new opera is like a clear horizon in which one is free to create without guilt. Of course, references always exist, just as the romantic era is characterized by a specific style of music. You’ve devoted much effort to Greek music. Is that coincidental? From early on, I collected scores containing scholarly Greek music. I used to listen to recordings of older vocalists and always felt that the delivery ought to have been more direct, less operatic, and freed of cliches to attract a modern audience. An opportunity arose on the sidelines of an exhibition on European civilization which was organized by the D’Orse Museum in Paris. The Athens Concert Hall asked me to perform Greek music, and, sifting through the scores, I realized that I’d already accumulated most of the material. This event may have subsequently led to Byron Fidetzis’s offer for interpretation of Greek works. Around the same time, in the early 1990s, modern Greek composers happened to look my way. That could have been because, at that young age, they felt my voice was more versatile – and, subsequently, a more useful tool – or perhaps because my view of things was not yet prescribed. What’s it like to sing opera in Greek? It’s difficult because the techniques required to sing opera were created to serve the needs of another language. I’ve sung in Greek from my childhood, particularly because I was interested in the lyrics. I’ve tried to keep my singing simple, so that the words can be understood. Of course, there’s a difference between singing Italian music from the Romantic period and a contemporary composer. Carrer caters to a specific form and perception of the language. The contemporary Greek composer has conceived the music directly for the Greek language. Venues for concerts of works by Greek composers are often empty. Are the works to blame? Several things are to blame. Commercial music possesses all the means, and its following is created and recycled on a daily basis. In contrast, an audience for classical music is cultivated only by the superhuman efforts of a minimal number of teachers. Moreover, promotion is non-existent. The television news prefers promoting nightclubs. These days, if something isn’t promoted, it does not exist. Have you ever thought that, thanks to your recorded works, your voice will be preserved as a first step. I have thought about it and it gives me great pleasure. It makes me think that engaging myself in this work has not been pointless, as I’ve contributed to certain forgotten works remaining in posterity. Although your repertoire range is wide, you seem to select your roles carefully. The choice of repertoire has been difficult for me. Each time I’ve attempted to make a selection, I haven’t been able. I’ve tried remaining close to things that suit my voice. Tempting role offers have often come my way. Weighing the issues – always with the guidance of my husband and tutor, the tenor Giorgos Zervanos – I’ve accepted some of these offers, despite believing that the roles were not for me. Some works, like «Simone Bocanegra» and «Norma» had a positive response from the audience. In accepting challenges, I can at least feel the satisfaction of having exceeded my limits and attempting to render roles to the best of my ability with the means that I possess. How did you begin singing? My whole family listened to music; we all sang. Although I was studying piano and had a good voice, I never made efforts to become professionally involved in opera. I viewed the domain as particularly sublime and felt that I lacked the ability. A friend studying at a conservatory persuaded me. I took exams, won a scholarship, and studied alongside the tenor Giorgos Zervanos, who had just arrived from abroad and was considered very good and technically informed. I then got married and had two children. My first steps on stage were made alongside Antonis Kontogeorgiou from whom I gained invaluable experience and knowledge. My desire to get involved professionally with opera coincided with a state of emotional maturity that acted as a kind of catalyst – a state that allowed my energy to develop creatively.