‘Opera of the Earth’ grounded for good

The Cultural Olympiad is drawing to a somewhat ignominious close as numerous ambitious projects, which were scheduled to bring it a triumphant conclusion, are now being canceled one after the other. And while the newly appointed board of directors has yet to resume its duties, the «Opera of the Earth,» which was supposed to be performed in Ancient Olympia a few weeks before the beginning of the Games, has now been called off. The cancellation is a serious blow, because the performance, a joint production by the Cultural Olympiad and the Athens Concert Hall with the Orchestra of Colors, was based on various international competitions which were held during the past three years in order to select the opera’s composer, conductor and soloists. Artistic responsibility was given to the world-renowned set designer and director Yiannis Kokkos, who is of Greek descent. Moreover, the committees judging these competitions were either headed by, or included, well-known figures in the music world, such as Sir Neville Marriner and Cesare Mazzonis, director of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. While no official announcement has yet been made, the cancellation is a reality. Since the board of directors has yet to approve the production’s budget (with the performance due in two months’ time), and no preparations have yet been made, Kokkos felt obliged to resign, there being no time to stage the show. But even if the new board did meet soon (though it is still waiting for the announcement of its appointment in the Government Gazette) and were to approve the production’s budget, it is impossible for the performance to take place. «The problems we face are so numerous and I don’t think we have enough time now,» said the director of the Orchestra of Colors, Giorgos Kouroupos. «If the budget is approved at some point (we submitted it two years ago to the Cultural Olympiad), I will ask for it to be renegotiated, so as to postpone the show and schedule it for after October, in a closed theater. We would still like to have Yiannis Kokkos as director and set designer, if he is available, because it is now a question of morality. After all, we have been using his name for four years, all over the world…» Both the venue and time of the opera’s staging (Ancient Olympia and summer 2004) as well as the participation of Kokkos were included in the terms of the three international competitions which were held for the selection of the composer, conductor and soloists. It is highly likely that the foreign artists selected will seek compensation, since they put a lot of effort and time into the production of the «Opera of the Earth.» The responsibility weighs on the Cultural Olympiad, which has failed to approve the budget during the past two years. On January 10, it assigned the production to the Athens Concert Hall, yet the Concert Hall could not take any action because the Cultural Olympiad’s board had not yet approved the sum for the production. The cancellation of the collaboration between the well-known British director Peter Greenaway and Athens Municipality for the festive show centered on the ancient Panathenaic Games has also made a bad impression. The show, which had been scheduled for July, was supposed to take place around the Acropolis and the stadium. After many delays, the municipality finally sent a contract to Greenaway a few days ago. The contract left much to be desired, mostly because it made no provisions for any money to be given beforehand to cover the huge cost of the production. On the contrary, it stated that the money would be given in the future. The director was outraged; this is the second time his work has been canceled in Greece at the last minute, after the legendary «Icarus» he had been planning with the Cultural Olympiad two years before fell through.

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