CULTURE

Upcoming Greek premiere

One of the great divas of French theater, Genevieve Page, has left her distinctive touch on Claude Debussy’s composition «The Martyrdom of St Sebastian,» based on a poem by Gabriele d’Annunzio, in a music, theater and visual arts spectacle that Athenian audiences will be able to enjoy at the Athens Concert Hall on April 22, 23 and 25. Page, who has adapted and directed the production, also stars as St Sebastian in a work still unknown to the greater public and which is being presented for the first time in Greece as a performance spectacle. Genevieve Page is inextricably linked with contemporary French theater, but has also made her mark in the movies, with unforgettable appearances in numerous films including «Fanfan la Tulipe,» «El Cid» and Luis Bunuel’s «Belle de Jour.» Currently rehearsing the «Martyrdom of St Sebastian» in Athens, she presented the upcoming spectacle at a press conference earlier in the week. ‘An unknown Debussy’ «What we have here is an ‘unknown’ Debussy, a composition full of intense moments instead of the soft ones he has gotten us used to. It is not performed very often, one of the reasons being that it is a very expensive production, since it requires a good choir and a large orchestra – and as a result people are not familiar with it,» said Page. «What we tried to do was to combine the composition’s orchestral part with a suitable stage presence. One must not forget that Debussy wrote the music to the poem, which already existed. That makes it necessary for us to have a knowledge of history and because in the Middle Ages the so-called mysteries took place in churches’ aisles, we decided to construct a cathedral on stage.» The work is a poetic version of third-century Roman martyr St Sebastian’s tragic end: He was shot to death with an arrow while tied to a tree due to his refusal to denounce his Christian faith. The performance was first staged at Paris’s Chatelet Theater in 1911, starring Russian dancer Ida Rubinstein; the part of St Sebastian was created for a woman. It was considered highly controversial at the time, and, as Page explained, the archbishop of Paris forbade his flock to attend performances. «The work was seen as controversial because it praises the beauty of the male body,» explained Page. «Sebastian is an archer, therefore sporty, he has an athletic body and reflects a certain eroticism. His depiction can be found in all Italian churches. This spectacle is important in that, apart from the music, it is also pleasing to the eye.» Page – who had to cut a number of verses from the original five-hour production and said she only kept the most beautiful ones as well as those that advanced the plot – expressed her joy at being in Athens. «Every moment of the rehearsals is a moment of happiness, to the point of perfection.» Page previously appeared at the Athens Concert Hall in October 2001 in «Theatrical Walks: Four Centuries of French Theater,» a production that was part of the concert hall’s Week of French Literature and Music. «The Martyrdom of St Sebastian» will be staged with the participation of the Orchestra of Colors, under the baton of Miltos Logiadis; the ERT Greek Radio & TV Choir, led by Costis Konstandaras; acclaimed French actors Emmanuelle Meyssignac and Jean-Paul Solal; sopranos Yumiko Tanimura and Myrto Papathanassiou, and contra-tenors Romeo Cornelius and Nikos Spanos, among others. «From my very first meeting with Miltos Logiadis, I saw that his idea of Debussy is very similar to mine,» said Page. For his part, Logiadis pointed out the difficulties in putting on this particular composition. «This is a work of a deeply religious nature and the music speaks by itself, much louder than the actual words. It is not one of Debussy’s usual pieces, it contains many dramatic elements, like Wagner’s operas for example, or even Verdi, if one stretches it a bit.» This is the second time the Orchestra of Colors is to collaborate with the Athens Concert Hall on a Claude Debussy work; the first time was in 1996, for Debussy’s opera «Pelleas and Melisande.» Finally, stage designer Nikos Petropoulos added that the sets consist, in effect, of an exact reproduction of a gothic-style church and are a purely architectural construction. The Athens Concert Hall is situated at 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333. Performances, which will have supertitles, will take place in the Friends of Music Hall.