Greek operetta reborn after 70 years
“I’ll put it simply: ‘Perouze’ is made for the Herod Atticus Theater. Shortish, in two acts of 45 minutes each, it is theatrical and has very interesting music with a variety of influences – Viennese operetta, Greek folk songs, the Doric harmonies of Byzantine music – and of course its cliches. It is also the work of a great musical talent with a gift for melody and the ability to embody all of these elements, Theophrastos Sakellaridis.”
Conductor Byron Fidetzis can’t help getting excited when he’s talking about the Greek operetta “Perouze,” a piece he helped bring back to life by restoring the worn sheet music that was first performed by the Greek National Opera to rave reviews in 1911 and staged all over the country until 1950.
With the original libretto by Giorgos Tsokopoulos, “Perouze” is now being revived in a production directed by Thodoris Abazis for the Greek Festival at the Herod Atticus Theater on June 16 and 17. The music will be performed by the Athens Philharmonia Orchestra, founded two years ago to promote Greek art house (entechno) music.
Fidetzis, who is the ensemble’s artistic director, explains that much of the work presented by the Athens Philharmonia, which is headed by Athens University musicology professor Nikos Maliaras, is music dug up and restored by research teams at Greek universities.
Fidetzis has every reason to be passionate about this kind of work. His father played the flute in an orchestra in his native Thessaloniki and often took him to rehearsals, while one of his most powerful memories from World War II was how curfew restrictions forced musicians to come together in homes to perform chamber music. He also remembers how refugees from Asia Minor, Thrace and Smyrna helped imbue Greece with a cosmopolitan culture that it had lacked until then.
Fidetzis’s father had a large circle of friends and acquaintances in the world of music and Sakellaridis, “another Macedon,” he says, was among them. “Greece had four major talents in the field of melodrama at the time: Spyridon Samaras, Dionysis Lavrangas, Manolis Kalomiris and Sakellaridis, who wrote four operas. Writing operettas was not always dictated by financial concerns, but also reflected prevalent trends. Puccini was writing operettas in 1910, and so was Samaras. Everything changed with the Asia Minor Catastrophe, though,” Fidetzis says.
The reputation of “Perouze” survived thanks to its widespread popularity. “It was commonplace in the countryside in the 19th and early 20th century for bands to perform in public squares. Many popular operas were performed in these concerts in ‘potpourri’ form, meaning a medley of the best-known melodies,” explains the conductor.
The musicians also had a habit of noting where and when they performed a piece on the sheet music. One conductor, Totis Karalivanos, saved a score of “Perouze” and gave it to Giorgos Leotsakos, the acclaimed music historian and critic, who then went on to give the dog-eared, weather-worn sheet music to the Benaki Museum.
“It was put on microfilm and I was able to fill in the missing parts on a photocopy of that from traces of the music I found on sheet music salvaged by musicians,” explains Fidetzis of the process of reviving the score. The restored score was first presented in 2001 in concertante form by the Thessaloniki Municipal Orchestra.
At the Herod Atticus, the operetta, a bucolic drama about the doomed affair between a young gypsy women and a peasant youth, will be performed in full (in Greek with English surtitles) with Kassandra Dimopoulou in the title role, along with Filippos Modinos, Anna Stylianaki, Petros Magoulas, Tasis Christogiannopoulos and Christos Rammopoulos. The production also includes the choir of the Music Studies Department of Athens University and the Thessaloniki Choir.
For details and tickets, visit www.greekfestival.gr.