Denying love an insult to nature

In 1954, the National Theater of Greece presented Euripides’ «Hippolytus» at Epidaurus, essentially bringing the ancient theater back to life. As the Epidaurus Festival celebrates 50 years this year, the National Theater is presenting the same tragedy at the theater this Friday and Saturday. Back then the play had been directed by legendary director Dimitris Rontiris, starring Alekos Alexandrakis; this time round, Vassilis Nikolaidis directs and Constantinos Markoulakis takes the lead role. One thing the two productions have in common is the music by Dimitris Mitropoulos. Originally composed in 1937, when the National Theater and Rontiris had staged «Hippolytus» for the first time, the work was the composer’s last work before leaving Greece and subsequently becoming a great maestro in his time. Following 50 years of oblivion, the work will be heard at various stages all over the country this summer, beginning with Epidaurus. Kathimerini recently spoke to Vassilis Nikolaidis. What made you suggest «Hippolytus» to the National Theater? Was it the 50th anniversary of productions at the ancient theater or perhaps Mitropoulos’s music? Neither, simply my great love for the play over the last 30 years, ever since I was a student. I’m really interested in the play’s truth. The idea that man has to honor his nature. Because when he fails to do so, such as in the case of Hippolytus, who denies love altogether, a fundamental law of human nature, the punishment is merciless. Freud made the point in the 20th century, but Euripides had already made it much earlier. What about the use of Mitropoulos’s score? Were you trying to create some hype? Not at all. I was searching for it for years, I wanted to listen to the music, which, during its time, had been considered even more avant garde than that composed by Mitropoulos for «Electra.» It had even been called disrespectful. Miranda Economidou, an actress who had participated in the 1954 production, sung a piece for me; a very good musician herself, she had told me that it was a beautiful piece of work. All this, and given my relationship to music, made me want to use this specific work, fully aware that I was dealing with something rather difficult, even pompous. Has the music influenced the production’s staging? We are highly respectful of the music’s style, but we were focusing our efforts on incorporating it into a contemporary production. The music itself allows this, given that it opens in an ancient manner, and then gives way to something rather contemporary. I’d like to stress here that we could never listen to this score today without the valuable contribution of the great musician Yiannis Sabrovalakis, who undertook the overall arrangement; Melina Peonidou, who taught the music and offered solutions; Giorgos Kouroupos and the Orchestra of Colors, who incorporated the work into their repertoire, enabling us to use it for the National Theater at no exorbitant cost as well as the Athens Concert Hall, which allowed us to use the Mitropoulos Hall and the recording department free of charge. Did you make any changes to the score? We approached the work in a very creative way but also with the utmost respect toward the arrangement. We made a few minor changes in two or three instances and, of course, had to adjust the music to Stratis Paschalis’s new translation, which, by the way, I find far more well-suited to Mitropoulos’s style than the previous translations by Sarros. What have you done with the Chorus? Does it sing and dance? Yes, there is both singing and choreography, a difficult task given the music, a task carried out by Ersi Pitta. This high-risk project would not have taken off without Pitta, a connoisseur of Bauhaus and contemporary dance. Pitta put her entire soul into this. Generally speaking, however, the Chorus does not «act» here, like in the «Bacchae» for instance. It observes, but does not act. What does like the production look like? It is contemporary, without chitons. Along with Giorgos Patsas, who made the set designs and the costumes, we put forward a rather neutral style, neither modern nor ancient, something rather interesting, in my opinion. We dealt with Hippolytus and his friends as a somewhat monastic battalion – considering that the young prince is inaccessible to women. He is living as a recluse when his father Theseus comes looking for him, accompanied by his wife, Phaedra. That’s when Phaedra’s sick love for her stepson is revealed, urging Aphrodite to punish the young man who denies his nature… Tell us a little bit about the cast. I think the production has achieved an interesting composition on the acting level. Even though they stem from different acting «schools,» they complement each other and come together in a unified framework: Filareti Komninou is Phaedra, Betty Valasi is the Nurse, Christos Parlas is Theseus, Maria Nafpliotou is Aphrodite, Marianthi Sondaki is Artemis and, of course, we have our very own Hippolytus, Constantinos Markoulakis – a particularly intelligent actor whose style contains many of the necessary elements for this role: youthfulness, innocence, but also a certain air of arrogance and pride. I think that Markoulakis succeeds in bringing across the insult committed by Hippolytus, as well as the sympathy with which the playwright eventually surrounds him.