Italian baroque sung by Greeks

It was only four years ago that Greece discovered the beauty of Italian baroque operas. The city of Volos paved the way by staging Vivaldi’s «L’Olimpiade» in 2001 and the National Opera followed suit, with Handel’s «Xerxes» in 2002 and his «Alcina,» currently on stage, as well as Vivaldi’s «Orlando Furioso» in 2003. Hence, a group of vocalists who gradually became familiar with the baroque style was formed. In the summer of 2003, a collaboration between the prefecture of Corinth and ERT (Greek Radio & Television) resulted in the Greek premiere of Handel’s opera «Orestes,» under the baton of Giorgos Petrou, who had been known up until then as a pianist. Directed by Maria Gyparaki, the opera was received very warmly and, after a few changes in the cast, it was staged at the National Opera in 2004. One of the changes that proved decisive at the Athens performances was the participation of the Stuttgart Camerata, an ensemble consisting of musicians familiar with baroque compositions, an education which Greek orchestras still lack. The opera’s first-ever recording was made in Germany; the CD was released recently and did full justice to those who had believed in and supported the effort. Petrou’s direction contains the necessary imagination: It differentiates between similar-sounding arias and gives each of them its own special mood. Mary-Ellen Nezi is convincing as Orestes. Along with Maria Mitsopoulou’s expressive Hermione, Nezi produces the peak of the recording in the second act’s duet. Another successful choice was Mata Katsouli for the part of Iphigenia: her voice differs from Mitsopoulou’s and produces a pleasant contradiction. The quality of contra-tenor Nikos Spanos’s voice balances his rather nonchalant interpretation, while bass Petros Magoulas’s vocal quality also adds an interesting note. Tenor Antonis Koroneos gives a good rendition of Pylades’s two slow arias, but seems to feel less comfortable with the second one, which is highly demanding. The CD proves what the country’s artists and audience are missing out on, because of the lack of a healthy recording structure. Greek musicians, who are as good as musicians in countries that treat classical music far more seriously, remain unmotivated and unknown, both at home and abroad. This recording should prompt the support of further and even more important staging and recording ventures.

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