This is not its fifth, nor its 10th, nor even its 25th but its 50th summer! This year, the Hellenic Festival is 50 years old, even if the festival itself is under the impression that this birthday is not until next year. For 50 summers in a row – Greek summers! – from 1954 until 2003, thousands of Greek and foreign visitors have swarmed each weekend to the verdant landscape of ancient Epidaurus. Refreshed or sweating, on a carefree excursion or late and panicking, they arrive full of curiosity and expectation for the performance they will see, or simply come to enjoy being in this wonderful ancient theater and to watch the dark blue night fall behind the fir trees and over the distant mountains. We Greeks have a great love for the splendid history evoked by the word «Epidaurus,» centered around the ancient dramas performed there each Friday and Saturday night in the summer. And again this summer, with performances opening tonight, we anticipate enjoying the Epidaurus Festival once more. We still might criticize the standard of some performances or the sound of the orchestra – this is all part of the mysterious «magic of Epidaurus.» On the occasion of the opening of the Epidaurus Festival, let’s take a stroll through some of the interesting particulars of this year’s eight productions, the first of which will be staged tonight and tomorrow, and the last on August 22 and 23. Euripides takes up half the bill Of the eight productions to be performed at this year’s Epidaurus Festival, half are Euripidean tragedies. We shall see «Hecuba» from the Trojan Cycle, «Electra» from the House of Atreus, «Medea» from the Argonauts and the rarely performed «Ion» of the Attic tradition. The Theban Cycle, with which we were sated last year, is this year represented (as is Sophocles) by only one tragedy, «Oedipus at Colonus,» while this year there is no Aeschylus. There is a Menander, the «Epitrepontes,» but only two pieces from Aristophanes. The literary Aristophanes Aristophanes may have been literary, but not a literary critic. By coincidence this year’s two Aristophanic comedies («Thesmophoriazusae» and the «The Frogs») both refer to «literary» themes of the day. Don’t expect anything «heavy,» though. Aristophanes simply puts Euripides on stage and ridicules him. In «Thesmophoriazusae,» he makes him a misogynist for the grim tragic heroines he created and gets the Athenian women to swear revenge. In «The Frogs,» Aristophanes makes Aeschylus and Euripides compete in the Underworld as to who is the better poet so that Dionysus will bring the winner back to life. Of course, Aeschylus pulverizes Euripides, ridiculing every line the latter recites. Oedipus of the Absent The late Mimis Kouyioumtzis went through torture at last year’s Epidaurus premiere – for such a charming, considered and refined production to be spoiled because of the rain. The «Oedipus at Colonus» that Kouyioumtzis directed for the Theatro Technis, with leading actors (Voglis, Fertis, etc.), such a solicitous and able production, was also to be his ancient drama swan song. His «Oedipus» will open this year’s Epidaurus Festival tonight, but sweet Mimis will not be there. New faces… The mixture of old and new is the best thing (also) for Epidaurus. This year not only are many talented actors making their debut at Epidaurus, but so are many other collaborators – translators, directors, set designers, musicians, choreographers, and more. Stathis Livathinos («Medea») and Themis Moumoulides («Electra») are the directors appearing here for the first time. The new translators are Stratis Paschalis («Electra») and Nikoletta Fritzila («Ion»), and effectively also Dimitris Maronitis, with last year’s «Oedipus at Colonus.» Set designer Eleni Manolopoulou and composers Giorgos Andreou, Takis Farazis and Theodoros Abazis are also newcomers to the festival, along with choreographers Apostolia Papadamaki, Mariella Nestora, Alice Kazouri and Xenny and Gillian Vatti. And, of course, there are several new actors, including many in lead roles, such as Tamila Koulieva, Yiannis Vouros, Dimitris Piatas, Demetra Hatoubi, Christos Stergioglou, Christos Loulis, Yiannis Mavritsakis, Dimitris Alexandris and others. …and experienced ones Surely, however, those artists especially experienced and distinguished in the staging of ancient drama predominate, with directors such as Evangelatos, Tsianos, Evis Gavrielides, Lydia Koniordou and, for the second time at Epidaurus, Sotiris Hadzakis. We will hear translations from C.H. Myris, Tachtsis, Evangelatos, Tsianos and Varveris as well as the music of Giorgos Kouroubos, Michalis Christodoulides (x 2), Philippos Tsaclouris and Elizabeth Suantos. We shall see set designs and costumes by Dionysos Fotopoulos, Giorgos Patsas, Yiannis Metzikof (x 2), Antonis Halkias, Clare Bracewell, Ersi Drini and Agnes Doutsi. And known names in choreography include Constantinos Rigos, Sofia Spyratou and Fokas Evangelinos. If you want ‘big names’ The leading parts this year are played by Yiannis Voglis, Yiannis Fertis, Petros Philippides, Karyofyllia Karabeti, Mayia Lyberopoulou, Despina Bembedili, Leda Tassopoulou, Dimitris Piatas, Stavros Louras, Nikos Haralambous, Tamila Koulieva, Lydia Koniordou, Christos Stergioglou, Costas Santas and Alexandros Mylonas. Alongside them (in leading roles) are younger actors, such as Christos Loulis (Ion), Yiannis Mavritsakis (Jason), Dimitris Alexandris (Orestes) and Vassilis Haralambopoulos (Xanthias). Important roles are also performed by Katia Yerou, Demetra Hatoubi, Yiannis Karatzoyiannis, Theodoros Grampsas, Yiannis Rozakis, Dimitris Economou, Nikos Karathonas, Costas Athanassopoulos, Barnaby Kyriazis, Cosmas Fontoukis, Anneza Papadopoulou, Maria Micha, Yiannis Sampsiares, Costas Triandafyllopoulos, Dimitris Imerlos, Arto Apartian and Yiannis Dalianes. Aristophanic successor We have had some exceptional interpreters of Aristophanes, among whom shone, when he wasn’t burning himself out, the great Aristophanic actor Thymios Karakatsanis. In recent years Petros Philippidis’s star has been rising as the «successor.» In any case, he is a fine representative of the Aristophanic tradition of Greek theater. As equally inventive, yet more compliant with the director, he is always the guarantee of a sure-fire Aristophanic performance. This year we shall see him in the «Thesmophoriazusae,» directed by Costas Tsianos (July 11 and 12). Unexpected encounter Celebrated actress Anna Synodinou was supposed to make her reappearance at Epidaurus this year in Euripides’ «Hecuba,» in a production by Spyros Evangelatos’s and Leda Tassopoulou’s Amphi-Theater. The catalyst was the Hellenic Festival, in particular, its president, Periklis Koukos. But the result of this unexpected coproduction will not be brought to fruition, as Synodinou recently announced that due to poor health she is unable to continue her collaboration with the Amphi-Theater. She will be replaced by another grande dame of theater, Despina Bembedeli (July 25 and 26). The National in first place In the past few years, the National Theater has once more garnered first place in the performances at Epidaurus. The choices made by the Kourkoulos management have brought the best, most interesting and most inspiring productions that Greece’s National Theater has to offer to the Argive theater. Its two productions this year have been assigned to the National’s Experimental Stage and its director Stathis Livathinos and also to our leading contemporary tragedian, Lydia Koniordou. The Experimental goes to Epidaurus Livathinos, who over the past two years has created a reputation for high quality at the National Theater, is directing «Medea» with the Experimental’s regular troupe and the Russian-born Tamila Koulieva in the role of the barbarian princess. It will be their first production for the National for all the contributors (director, lead actress, translator, musician, set designer and choreographer). And for us, the audience for whom the Experimental has been so rewarding, there is much to look forward to (August 8 and 9). Exorbitant ‘Ion’ Just as the great Dionysis Fotopoulos «has woven» the belle époque costumes worn by the fickle people around the character of Ion, the young and virtuous prince of Athens, so Lydia Koniordou works to express the production. How else could she render the atmosphere of this light tragedy which, strangely, is rarely performed. It is all poised between drama and irony – and this is the wager made by the distinguished contributors to the production. The director herself is in the role of Ion’s mother, Ion being played by the young Christos Loulis, this year’s winner of the Dimitris Horn Prize (August 15 and 16). Croaks from the STNG We hope that we won’t be hearing the kind of croaks that the now endemic misery and infighting at the State Theater of Northern Greece (STNG) have been producing of late. We hope instead for croaking that is playful and edifying, as befits «The Frogs» by Aristophanes (August 22 and 23) that is being prepared by STNG under Sotiris Hadzakis’s direction. Hadzakis has entrusted the main roles of Dionysus and his slave Xanthias to Christos Stergioglou and Vassilis Haralambopoulos, while the notorious contest in Hades between Aeschylus and Euripides will rest on the shoulders of Alexandros Mylonas and Costas Santas. Brilliantly creative Constantinos Rigos is responsible for the comedy’s choruses («The Frogs» and «The Initiates»). Mr Menander speaks 19th century ancient Greek To bring one of Menander’s comedies to life on stage is perhaps the most difficult challenge with ancient drama. We have seen some monstrous results… Some years ago, the Cyprus Theater Organization produced an experimental «Samia» by Menander, with a pleasant result: The poet Yiannis Varveris translated the play into the 19th century «pure» Athenian lingo, while the director, Evis Gavrielides, «coordinated» a refreshing performance. These experienced gents shall attempt the same again this year with Menander’s «Epitrepontes,» starring Dimitris Piatas (August 1 and 2). Cruel Electra The honor of the Municipal and Regional Theaters (DIPETHE) around the country is this year being upheld at Epidaurus by the prolific and generally capable DIPETHE of Patras. With a select staff of actors and other co-workers, Themis Moumoulides, director of the theater, is staging Euripides’s «Electra» with lead actress Karyofyllia Karabeti. Karabeti has already played Sophocles’s Electra and is now testing and being tested in the variations of interpretation that have occupied philologists and theater people over the centuries. We note Maya Lymberopoulou’s appearance (as Clytemnestra) and the contribution of established songwriter Giorgos Andreou, with his first work for ancient drama (July 18 and 19). Tickets for the Epidaurus Festival at the Hellenic Festival’s central box offices, 39 Panepistimiou Street, inside the arcade (tel 210.3221.459) and at the box offices of the Ancient Theater at Epidaurus (tel 2753.0.22026). You can also book by credit card (tel 210.3221.459).