Weekly escapade in hot July

The Musical July series at the Small Theater of Epidaurus, which has developed into a summertime institution since its inception in the mid-90s, begins tonight with the first of two performances by Greek folk preservationist Domna Samiou. She also performs tomorrow. Also included in the month-long series, in chronological order, are Friday and Saturday performances by: The Camerata – Friends of Music Orchestra; pianist Natalia Michailidou; the New Hellenic Quartet, one of the country’s finest chamber groups, with mezzo-soprano Marina Fideli, who is currently contracted to the Kiel Opera in Germany; and, for the finale, contemporary singer-songwriter Alkinoos Ioannidis. Besides offering high-caliber musical performances, the series also offers Athens city dwellers a good reason to escape for not-too-distant entertainment in Ancient Epidaurus, just over 100 kilometers from the capital. As in previous summers, visitors can also opt to travel by sea. A cruise boat service will be provided from the Trocadero Port in Faliron, southern Athens, at 5.30 p.m. on all performance days. The small theater is a 15-minute walk from the port at Epidaurus. A relatively recent ancient discovery, the Small Theater of Epidaurus, which lay buried, was detected in 1972 by the archaeologist Evangelia Deilaki. Her ensuing research suggests that it had begun operating approximately 2,500 years ago, prior to the region’s far larger Epidaurus Theater. During its prime, the small theater had a capacity of seating 2,000. Restoration work currently being conducted, parallel to the annual July event, is gradually bringing the present-day capacity figure closer to its original. The aging Samiou, who inaugurates this year’s festival tonight, has dedicated an entire lifetime to researching, documenting, preserving and, as a reward for her efforts, popularizing the country’s wealth of folk («demotika») songs. Needing to persevere in a difficult childhood as the daughter of Asia Minor refugees, Samiou was raised in an Athens shantytown back in the 1930s. Inspired by her mentor and instructor, the late Simon Karras, Greece’s first musicologist to comb the entire country to document old folk songs, Samiou went roaming from village to village and has, over the decades, accumulated an archive of some 4,000 songs. Her work helped restore clout and authenticity to a long underrated and marginalized musical form. This is reflected in the popularity Samiou enjoys among younger audiences. Her Musical July performances, titled «Songs of the Sea,» will begin at the theater, and, at the end of the regular show, relocate to the port as an encore. Performances begin at 9.30 p.m. Concert tickets available at the Hellenic Festival’s box office in downtown Athens (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.928.2900). For boat tickets: N.E. Epirotiki – Hydraiki – Pleasure Cruise offices (87 Akti Miaouli St, Piraeus, tel 210.429.1501-10).