CULTURE

A schooner from Greece to arrive in New York

A Greek schooner has set sail for New York and its cargo, full of the best Greece has to offer, isn’t docking at just any old harbor but at the Metropolitan Opera, the famous «Met.» Our ship is full of ambition, with a sea-weathered captain and a select crew: The director Costa-Gavras has overall command and among the merry crew you will find Giorgos Dalaras, Lydia Koniordou, the conductor Loukas Karytinos, composer Nikos Xydakis, musicians, dancers and many others. To this crew will be added the ballet and orchestra of the celebrated American Ballet Theater, the internationally renowned soprano and Met lead Elena Kelessidi, the young Greek-American director Christopher Theophanides and our own Minos Matsas, who now lives in America, as well as other Greek-American choirs, musicians, and many more. Moreover, our schooner rides high on the solid shoulders of the Cultural Olympiad. The performance will take place in New York on May 20, while in Greece we will have the opportunity to see it most likely in the winter at the Athens and Thessaloniki concert halls. Costa-Gavras came to Athens to finalize the last details, which is when we met up with him. The show to be put on at the Met is obviously a complex and varied spectacle. What is its «central idea»? Come and see our Greece! We want to promote Greece and the Athens 2004 Olympics. But I want to clarify that this is not a «tourist exhibition.» My personal guide was those things which keep me, and all the Greeks of the diaspora, linked to Greece: the language, the music, Greek dance, the light, historical memory, the dramas we lived in the past, ancient tragedy, the Parthenon, our food – all those things which mean «Greece» to us. Along with some more specific motivations, such as to play the bouzouki at the Met! To show, more generally, the relationship between Greek music at the crossroads of east and west, north and south with the music of the rest of the world. And even how harmoniously Greek music combines with classical music. This is why we wanted an opera singer, the wonderful Elena Kelessidi, who will not sing arias but Greek popular songs. Could you please describe the production in detail? It opens with the song «Omorfi kai Paraxeni Patrida» (Beautiful and Strange Country) and with other songs about Greece. We will have two orchestras, a popular and a symphonic, the orchestra of the American Ballet Theater conducted by Loukas Karytinos, as well as two Greek-American choirs, a male voice choir and a children’s choir. Dalaras and Kelessidi will sing individually and together, while there will also be a few orchestral pieces. Lydia Koniordou then enters with two of Electra’s monologues from Euripides in Greek and from Sophocles in English. I asked Nikos Xydakis to write the music that will tie this section together. The American Ballet Theater comes on immediately afterward with a new ballet based on the myth of Artemis and Actaeon, specially written for this production. A beautiful piece with a modern choreography by Lar Lubovitch, who is the soul of the American Ballet Theater. This closes the first half of the production. Songs, tragedy, dance in Part One. Are there any set changes? There are set changes, linking each section to the next, but not many since we will be projecting slides, photographs and film to create the atmosphere we want each time. The essence of Greece What does the visual material show? I heard that you have been filming a lot in Greece. Yes, of course. Aside from a little film I made about the Parthenon, we shot lots of landscapes by helicopter. Images that are essential for us, without being touristy. We went to Tsarouchis’s house and photographed many of his paintings – how much more Greek can you get than that? I also asked Alekos Fasianos to do some paintings for us and we have photographs and film from many moments in Greek life – from the service of the Easter Epitaph, for example, which for me is always a powerful memory. And also historical moments of joy and pain, the Civil War, the Asia Minor disaster, immigration. I wanted images from the entire fabric of Greek life, the light, the history, the culture, the people. And the second part? This starts with 10 bouzouki players seated in a row just like in the old tavernas, but this time in the Metropolitan Opera! They start with «Synefiasmeni Kyriaki» (Cloudy Sunday). Giorgos and Elena will sing songs by our leading composers, bringing the poetry of Elytis, Seferis, Kazantzakis, Ritsos, Gatsos and Papadopoulos to the stage. Then it is the turn of the short film I shot about the Parthenon. It’s around five or six minutes long and the music has been written by another of our young composers, Minos Matsas. What exactly does this film show? I wanted to tell the story of how the Parthenon, a monument that is the pride of humanity, has not suffered so much due to time but because of four human interventions: the fire caused by a barbarian raid in 225 BC; the destruction done by the early Christians in AD 300-600; Morosini’s bombardment during the Venetian-Turkish War and Elgin’s horrid act. I wanted to show the fundamental changes to the monument using computer-aided reconstructions. I haven’t made a history of the monument. But, truth be told, I would one day like to make a full-length film about this temple. About the return of the Parthenon Marbles, and so on? Look, apart from everything else, the Parthenon is tied to my memories of my childhood home. We lived in Colonus. On one side we could see the olive grove and my mother would joke saying, «This is where Oedipus came to tear his eyes out!» She could never accept that he had slept with his mother! On the other side, from the kitchen window, we could see the Parthenon. And she would say to me, «This is what we are.» So I want one day, if I am able and have the funding, to make a documentary about the Parthenon. In Baghdad Now on television we have just witnessed the destruction of the Archaeological Museum of Baghdad. Unbelievable! Outrageous! You know, the first thing the Americans protected when they reached Baghdad was the Oil Ministry. No one thought of the museums. The image of the crying museum director was tragic. This is what happens, though, when a state allows soldiers to run things. Going back to the performance at the Met. How does it continue and how does it end? With song and with songs. Somewhere in the middle there is a Pontian dance for two to three minutes, a feverish moment with their ancient dances, and the evening ends with songs about Greece once more, with Elytis’s «Crazy Steamship» right at the end. I think it fits Greece perfectly, because we’re a crazy steamship, sometimes sailing high, sometimes dipping low. I want to give this impression with the set, for the set at the end to be like a sailing ship, a schooner! Hard-core audience Doesn’t it make you feel rather strange that the production in New York follows on the heels of the war in Iraq? Yes, and that continues to be a problem. But I also think that culture is invariably, even if indirectly, about peace. It speaks out against war. And many of the images we show will be about that. Aside from this, we must not forget that there were many anti-war activities in America. The Greek-American audience is quite «hard core.» Not a little! A lot! And it always was politically «hard core.» I first encountered this when «Z» was screened in America. It was wild! In the churches, at Greek meetings, they talked about me as though I was an enemy of Greece. The Americans were running in the thousands to see the film, but the Greek Americans were against it. But with this performance, yes, there is a message of peace, but there is no space for political opinions. It’s about Greece and the Olympic Games. What did you think of the recent EU summit in Athens? It was very, very moving. I watched the events on both Greek and foreign television. I felt that at that particular moment, Greece entered a higher level. It was very well organized, with our ancient heritage playing a leading role, along with our modern future, which is a united Europe. It was all very nice. An opportunity for the Greek landscape and light to shine… A few days prior to the summit, in a rare moment of acting in tune with general public sentiment, the Athens Academy admitted you into its prestigious ranks. How did you feel about it? It is a great honor, one of the greatest to be bestowed upon a Greek. That’s how I feel about it. I was deeply moved. My only regret is that my parents will never know about this…