Operetta journey to heart of Athenian Belle Epoque

Four times a week taxis and private cars drop off their passengers on the Ippocratous sidewalk: well-groomed ladies and gentlemen somewhere in the over-50s age group. Clad in their felt hats and pearls, this almost-exiled-from-Athenian-nightlife world swiftly takes its place at the Acropol Theater this season, for a tribute to Theofrastos Sakellaridis (1883-1950), the so-called patriarch of Greek operetta. Not unlike a high-school reunion, from Wednesdays to Sundays the most homogeneous public to be seen at an Athenian foyer has been passionately supporting the Greek National Opera’s most popular production this year. Performances of «Thymisou ekeina ta chronia» (Remember Those Years) run to April 20. Following a break last year, the operetta is back in the National Opera’s repertory. And what a comeback it is: «Thymisou ekeina ta chronia» is a highly satisfying medley undertaken by musicologist Lambros Liavas, who put together the show following elaborate research on both a historic and music level. Developed from scratch, the production is based on a dramatized narration-guided tour undertaken by the composer himself (interpreted at the Acropol by Michalis Mitrousis), who is accompanied by two of his muses, namely Marika Kotopouli and Afroditi Laoutari. On stage, the story is told backward, with Sakellaridis appearing on New Year’s Eve in 1950, just prior to his death, before going all the way back to the heart of the Athenian Belle Epoque. At the Acropol Theater, the operetta’s dynamic comeback is based on new terms. The requirements here were straightforward: What was needed was a new point of view, far from the kind of approach that treats operetta productions as if they belong in museums. Hence the involvement of Liavas and choreographer Apostolia Papadamaki – the latter invited to participate even though she had no prior experience in this particular artistic genre. «I had never been to an operetta production before,» confesses Papadamaki. When asked, however, she agreed without too much hesitation. To begin with, her decision to join in had a lot to do with the presence of Liavas, with whom she worked on the production’s direction. Another reason behind her decision is that she tends to perform well when entering unknown territory. «Staging something postmodern in Athens right now does not seem like a real challenge to me,» says Papadimaki, adding, «I enjoyed working on a project that targets an audience which is being offered very little in terms of nightlife.» At the Acropol, the new wind is blowing discreetly with modern, minimalist tendencies in the settings, lighting and costumes, while the orchestration flirts with jazz and swing. Papadamaki sought to strike a balance between the old and the new, as opposed to pursuing a subversive take. And she cannot hide her satisfaction given the slight drop in the audience’s average age. Will the first emos turn up next year? Greek National Opera, Acropol Theater, National Opera New Stage, 9-11 Ippocratous, tel 210.364.3700.

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