CULTURE

Kazantzakis-based opera opens for the first time in Greece

Half a century after Nikos Kazantzakis’s «Christ Recrucified» was published in Greece and 44 years after the world premiere in Zurich of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu’s opera based on the controversial novel, the Thessaloniki Opera is presenting «The Greek Passion» for the first time in Greece. This production is the final performance of the outgoing administration of the Thessaloniki Opera, part of the State Theater of Northern Greece. It features a top-rate cast and crew and is staged for a few nights only at the inner courtyard of the Eptapyrgio Fortress. Backed by the beautiful towers of the Byzantine fortress and former prison, the cast of the opera tells the story of villagers who reveal their true selves when refugees seeking a better life arrive on the same day the village is staging its annual re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ. «I could never have imagined a better combination than presenting this production in Greece, the best home for this Greek work of art,» said the production’s director Pamela Howard. The cast is led by Dimitris Kassioumis, Filipos Vazakas, Dimitris Nalbandis, Keith Olsen and Aaron Ovadias. Complementing the performance, the Nikos Kazantzakis Museum in Thessaloniki is hosting an exhibition which sheds light on the novel, the opera, the relationship between the two and the common ideological and philosophical ground shared between the novelist and the composer. Letters, photographs and press clippings give a chronology of the relationship and collaboration of the two artists from 1956, when Martinu asked Kazantzakis to provide him with the verses and music of Orthodox hymns and demotic songs. In 1957, Martinu informed Kazantzakis that the opera was finished. Opera houses around Europe were showing an interest in producing the work, but in October of that year, Kazantzakis succumbed to a deadly virus and just a short while later Martinu was rushed into surgery, riddled with cancer. In April of 1959, Martinu was able to return to work on the opera. «I am not happy with the finale, and he is no longer able to help,» he wrote to Kazantzakis’s wife. When he finished it, he closed it with the words: «The End.» Martinu died at 69 in August of that same year without seeing his final work performed on stage. In 1961, the Municipal Theater of Zurich was the first to present the production of «Griechische Passion.» The widows of the two artists sat in the audience. «The Greek Passion» opened in Thessaloniki last Friday and will be repeated tomorrow, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday at 9 p.m.