Forgotten opera gets new voice

Giovanni Paisello’s «Olympiad» has been silenced for more than two centuries. Until today that is, when the work makes its world premiere in the contemporary age on the initiative of the Prefecture of Corinth and the Lyssipeio Cultural Center. The opera goes on stage at the city of Corinth’s archaeological site tonight and Wednesday and performances start at 9 p.m. The Patras orchestra will be conducted by Giorgos Petrou. The production is directed by Panagis Pagoulatos, with costumes by Louis Desiree and lighting by Antonis Panayiotopoulos. The cast includes Mata Katsouli (Aristea), Mary-Ellen Nezi (Megaklis), Vangelis Hadzisimos (Kleisthenis), Victoria Maifatova (Argini), Elpiniki Zervou (Alkandros), Dimitris Nalbantis (Amyntas). The performances were produced by the Prefecture of Corinth and the Lyssipeio Cultural Center. Maestro Petrou and director Pagoulatos talked to Kathimerini recently about the work’s intriguing revival. Last year you staged yet another forgotten work: Handel’s «Orestes.» Why did you choose Paisello’s unknown «Olympiad» as opposed to a more familiar work? Giorgos Petrou: First of all, we felt that this work, very popular for a century, should be presented in this year of the Olympics. During its time it was staged as a play, set to music by dozens of composers and had been translated into Greek by Rigas Velestinlis. What’s more, Vivaldi’s take was presented in Volos recently and so we decided to put forward Paisello’s version. What are the main differences between the two works? G.P.: In Vivaldi’s opera the music is uneven. The supporting roles are not of the same quality as the leading ones. There are also more parts with dialogue. Vivaldi’s «Olympiad» is a baroque opera whereas Paisello’s work was written in Mozart’s times. G.P.: Exactly. It has to do with the fact that in those days the protagonists were required to perform better and more arias. But that doesn’t change the fact that Paisello’s opera is more of an ensemble work featuring a more even role distribution. Two versions Did you look for Paisello’s original score? G.P.: What the audiences will listen to is based on a copy of the original score, which dates back to the end of the 18th century; we came across it at the French National Library in Paris. The opera was presented twice, once at the San Carlo Theater of Naples in 1789 and then again in 1793. It has never been presented since. It will be heard again after 211 years in Corinth! For the 1793 production, the composer had made a few modifications: He changed the overture, removed two arias, reduced the dialogical parts and turned Argini into a mezzo, instead of a soprano. Another interesting element is that in the second staging there is no third act. It is also worth noting that the work was the only one of Paisello’s numerous operas which was supposed to be published during his lifetime. In other words, both the composer and the musical world felt that it was one of his most important works. So why is it that it was subsequently forgotten? G.P.: Paisello himself did not wish to present it again. At the time audiences wished to listen to new works by their favorite composer every time they went to the theater. That explains why Paisello had composed more than 80 operas. This year you are collaborating with National Opera soloists, singers we are not used to in performances of this kind of music. Isn’t this quite a risk? G.P.: I believe that a very good singer can sing everything. I don’t believe that a singer can be exceptional in certain works and poor in others. Lighthearted The opera’s plot is quite complicated. How does one render it straightforward to a contemporary audience? Panagis Pagoulatos: If the singers themselves understand their roles, who they represent and what kind of relationship they have with each other, things are already much clearer. What are the opera’s main issues? P.P.: They relate to the 18th century’s broader ideological framework: friendship and love. The dramatic twist is created when these two are mixed together. Besides the main plot, however, there are secondary stories, which often lead to complex situations, touching upon vaudeville and soap operas. Is that where the production is heading to? P.P.: No, because the music does not allow for such a direction. G.P.: Contrary to the Vivaldi opera, where the majority of the dialogical parts are in minor mode, underlining the dramatic element of the situation, things are more lighthearted in the Paisello work. There is a strong comic element. I think that these comic aspects do emerge in our production. P.P.: Things are divided. There are those characters defined by their high ideals and there are those with more everyday, human elements. The poetic text is much older than the music and is defined by the baroque element. Does this style come across in the production’s direction? P.P: No. We are not using daily, television movement, of course, but we are not going for the baroque either. We are following the music’s style. We did not forget that this is an open-air production taking place outside of Athens, for a varied, not necessarily specialized, audience. What will the performance look like? P.P.: The set is provided by Octavia’s temple, situated in the archaeological site where the performances will take place. Though Louis Desiree’s costumes are antique-looking, they do not belong to a specific period in time.

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