A memorable evening at the Herod Atticus Theater

What happens when time goes back 50 years, gathering a bouquet of memories and precious moments to offer the Athens Festival audience at the Athens State Orchestra’s commemorative concert? It was a memorable evening, with culture in all its expressions – music, theater, opera, tragedy, ballet and traditional bands – outweighing politics. Instead of the royal family, who were ensconced in the official seats on August 24, 1955, this time the politicians and public figures of the presidential democracy were there, smiling and not separated by party lines. The celebration of the 50th anniversary of the festival, which has survived not a few changes of government, is a milestone, especially because it signals the continuation of the institution. Applause greeted Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis and former prime minister Giorgos Rallis, who arrived together, accompanied by their smiling wives, Natassa looking radiant and suntanned in her floral print halter-top, and Lena in an elegant blue-and-white outfit, with the posture of a champion golfer. On the empty stage, set just as it was when the Athens State Orchestra played in 1955, only the tiny lights on the conductor’s podium were glowing. Two large screens to the left and right brought the past to life again with the great names that have graced the festival since its inception: Maria Callas bringing the audience to its feet, Dimitris Mitropoulos, von Karajan, Nureyev with Fonteyn, Rostropovich, ancient tragedy, Mikis Theodorakis, Manos Hatzidakis and Dimitris Horn. National Theater of Northern Greece Director Nikitas Tsakiroglou spoke about the legendary names that have performed at the Herod Atticus Theater. The spotlight picked out some of them: Anna Synodinou, who played Polyxeni in «Hecuba» with the National Theater and Costas Paschalis Arvakis, who was in «Idomeneo» with the National Opera. They rose, accepted the applause of the audience and went to greet Rallis, the guest of honor who, as minister for the presidency, signed the decree that created the Athens Festival. Under conductor Byron Fidetzis, the musicians began to play the same program that started the festival 50 years ago, beginning with the Largo from Handel’s «Xerxes.» Mezzo Antigone Papoulka, an ethereal presence in white and sweetly expressive, made a fine debut on such an important night.

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