CULTURE

The masters of Greek opera

Do Greek operas exist? Works written by Greek composers, of the same caliber as the operas of Rossini, Verdi and Puccini? This is a frequently asked question, which comes as no surprise, given that the Greek educational system incorporates works by poets such as Dionysios Solomos, Andreas Kalvos and Costis Palamas as well as those of painters Nikiforos Lytras and Konstantinos Volanakis, among others, while leaving out composers such as Nikos Halikiopoulos Mantzaros, Spyridon Samaras and Manolis Kalomiris. Greek poets and writers are taught, published and translated, while Greek artists are well known and well appreciated. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Greek composers remain largely unknown and are very rarely interpreted – prior to the current generations, not a single musical score to an opera written by a Greek composer has been published commercially thus far. So what if Kalomiris had ensured the translation of the librettos of his works by translating them himself into two or three languages in order to facilitate their distribution? No organization ever deemed it necessary to work on any of these and invest in their promotion. The National Opera is currently making an effort to publish Kalomiris’s «Master Builder,» based on the work of the same name by Nikos Kazantzakis. This could be a beginning. Until then, Byron Fidetzis – the tireless advocate of historical Greek music and head of the Athens State Orchestra – has undertaken to present lyrical works by Ionian island composers, those who taught music to Greeks in the first place, as he says. Running at the Athens Concert Hall until Friday, the sixth cycle of the Hellenic Music Festivities opened with Dionysios Lavranga’s «Frosso,» in a long overdue world premiere honoring one of the most active founders of Greek opera. Bourgois life had been flourishing on the Ionian Islands since the 18th century. These islands’ relationship with neighboring Italian cities, especially Naples, encouraged the development of opera. While visiting foreign drama troupes performed there, Greek composers studied at Italian conservatories and put their their talents to the test, to great success. The tribute includes various works including Nikolaos Halikiopoulos Mantzaros’s «Don Crepuscolo.» Among the tribute’s featured composers, the most prominent is Spyridon Samaras. The composer is being represented through two of his works: «La Martire,» based on a libretto by Luigi Illica, known from his collaboration with Giacomo Puccini, and «Tigra» – at the Athens Concert Hall, the latter’s first act will be interpreted in an arrangement by Fidetzis. All of this naturally gives rise to the following question: Would it be worthwhile to consider the establishment of a national discography center as part of the Greek Cultural Ministry’s aggressive cultural policy? For starters, the Athens Concert Hall has the necessary infrastructure and already records performances for archival purposes. It’s worth a thought. Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali & Vas. Sofias, tel 210.728.2333. For more information, visit www.megaron.gr.