Baroque Ariadne in old Corinth

For the third consecutive year, an opera that is relatively little known to Greek audiences will make its debute in this country at the Corinth archaeological site. This year, the opera is Handel’s «Ariadne in Crete,» with performances this week. The production is directed by Nikaiti Kontouri and features the Patras Orchestra using old instruments under the baton of Giorgos Petrou, as well as Mary-Ellen Nezer interpreting the role of Theseus, a part originally written for the legendary castrato Carestini. Kathimerini spoke to Kontouri and Petrou before the performances, scheduled to take place on Friday and Sunday at the ancient site. How did you choose «Ariadne in Crete»? G.P.: Similarly to the production of Handel’s «Orestes,» which took place two years ago, the opera will be recorded by the German label mdg. This will mark the work’s first-ever commercial recording. Old instruments The Patras Orchestra is using old instruments. What does this mean exactly? When the movement for the revival of old music began a few decades ago, musicians tried to use either original instruments or at least exact copies. At one point it became apparent that during the 18th century the instruments differed in their making as well as in their tuning. So when we talk about old instruments today, it’s not really about the actual instruments, but about the sound and aesthetic result one can achieve through them. Who taught the musicians the technique and the aesthetics of the instruments? G.P.: The most important thing is for musicians to know exactly what they expect from the instruments. Of course, they consulted their teachers, but in any case it all comes down to 10 basic things. It should be obvious nowadays that musicians should be familiar with both contemporary and older instruments. It’s not accidental that great soloists such as violinist Maxim Vengerov use both and that the majority of musicians who are members of old instruments ensembles are also members of contemporary orchestras. Besides, this kind of music and interpretation is helpful when it comes to re-defining the rest of the repertoire, including «The Marriage of Figaro,» «The Barber of Seville» and «Norma,» for instance. Following the performances, will the recording take place using the same orchestra? G.P.: Yes. After the success of «Orestes» I felt that the recording of «Ariadne» ought to be carried out exclusively by Greek musicians. When the recording label BIS started recording works by Bach with Japanese artists, the whole of Europe was laughing. There is hardly any laughter when one listens to the end result today, however. In the case of «Orestes,» a number of foreign music critics had their reservations, as they didn’t know any of the artists involved in the project, given that they were all Greek without any prior experience in the field. When they finally listened to the recording, however, they enjoyed it and their comments were encouraging. I believe that that’s what all of us need. What about future projects? G.P.: We do not consider ourselves to be more specialized in Baroque music as opposed to romantic works. The reason why we choose to work with Baroque is that, given the difficulties in financing large-scale productions nowadays, it is very difficult to stage an expensive opera by Verdi, for instance. Our own means, which are quite limited, point us toward the Baroque. If we go on next year, we will have to present something completely different. Does the archaeological site determine the production’s aesthetics? N.K.: Very much and in all kinds of ways. Not just in visual terms but all the way down to the very essence of the opera. In an open space one has to fight with nature. What we have in Corinth is a natural space, a sensational and powerful natural set design: the remnants of Octavia’s temple. Our aim is to follow the development of the story in the most minimalist way in order to reveal the opera’s powerful characters. Human bodies become part of the space when necessary and help in the succession of stage props. Together with the members of the Opus Femina female choir, the soloists also have their own role to play. Naturally, a lot has to do with lighting, which aids the plot’s dramatic development. Another vital collaboration is working with an experienced choreographer. Like tourists What will the production look like? N.K.: There will be historical references, yet visually, the production will look rather contemporary. The idea is as follows: The singers will walk into the site as if they were tourists. Before the music starts, these people will remove items of their clothing, which will then identify them as the characters they interpret. Through this «theater within the theater» our aim is to create something unexpected. In the end, after singing and acting out the opera, we will take a number of defining elements and move on in order to continue our journey to yet another archaeological site. Handel’s «Ariadne in Crete» will be performed at the Archaeological Site of Ancient Corinth on Friday and Sunday at 9 p.m.

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