The yearly participation of the Greek National Opera to the proceedings of the Athens Festival (by tradition it opens the season every year with a new production) was an opera not really suited to an open air theater, especially with the problems of the Herodus Atticus Theater with its problematic acoustics and peculiarly shaped stage. Don Giovanni had not been presented for sometime by the National Opera, so this production, especially since it was handed over to Director Yiannis Houvardas, who’s main preoccupation is the theater, was eagerly awaited.
He is a very talented and methodical director with many feathers in his cap, and therefore it was not a surprise to treat Mozart’s masterpiece primarily as a piece of Singing Theater, a rather refreshing attitude to an opera that is generally treated as a showpiece for singers. What he managed to do was to create a believable ‘espace theatrale’ a kind of theatrical universe which although had similarities with the modern world , it transcended reality and revealed the metaphysical aspect of the opera in a series of situations which were tragic as well as comical, the opera is after all a Drama Giocoso.
The action was transferred to our own time in a city somewhere to the North. The Commendatore was running a canteen which served both as a feeding ground for the heroes and a gate to Hell, people working there in an endless day in day out situation. Don Giovanni is ultimately punished by a living Hell becoming a worker trapped in the everyday cycle of a 9 to 5 job. The stage was populated by four homeless guys who observed the action as an Ancient Tragedy Chorus, mute however, but still sometimes participating in the action with an air of detachment, wondering if what was happening on stage really affected their lives, if it really mattered. Houvardas created a two layer reality, that of the character’s own situation , and that of the homeless people (perhaps that of the audience) who had to watch over them. The whole setting helped the singers to express in a strong and often violent manner their feelings, love, jealousy, hate, and ultimately revenge. I found his approach refreshing, dramatically strong with a unique sense of theater, which is rare in modern productions. His approach not only did not distract the audience from the music, but made it relevant and vibrant, one could feel the minutely preparatory work which was done beforehand, as well as the deeper understanding of the music and the libretto.
What was impressive in this production was that all the singers sung and acted as a complete whole, no diva attitudes here. F.Pomponi , who replaced D.Tiliakos at the last moment , was a heroic Don, and managed to express the main character’s contrasts and immorality. He was definitely helped by his physique and his endless athletic stage movement. Vocally he was a good Don, I think that the acoustics of the theater did not help him very much to the point that sometimes he was inaudible in certain passages, however he sung with fervor and conviction especially his famous ‘champagne aria’.
Christoforos Stamboglis was the evening’s revelation. He sung Leporello with conviction and a true Mozartian vocalita. His voice was fresh, strong, vibrant, and his acting was a joy to behold. He was justly applauded warmly by the audience at the end of the performance.
Antonis Koroneos sung Don Ottavio in an impeccable way, after all it is a role with which he identifies, having sung it all over the world. His voice was fresh, with a beautiful tone, and sung ‘Dalla sua pace’ with sensitivity and an impeccable vocal line, in short he was one of the best Don Ottavio’s I have heard for a long time , even catching myself having wet eyes during some of his breathtaking pianissimi.
Dimitris Kavrakos made a welcome return to the stage in his role as the Commendatore. His voice is still fresh and powerful and created a real dramatic scene at the end of the opera..
Coming now to the female parts, Myrto Papathanassiou was an exceptional Donna Anna, keeping her voice at bay until her big show aria which she delivered with panache and breathtaking coloratura.
Celia Costea’s Donna Elvira was more then satisfying , but I do not think that her voice is suited for this kind of roles, her forte still remains Puccini.
Maria Mitsopoulou as Zerlina and Petros Magoulas as Masetto sang with fervor their respective roles and moved about the stage like true actors. I love the unassuming voice of Maria mitsopoulou, she sings with intelligence and an inner musicality.
I think the star of the evening was Maestro Loukas Karytinos who embraced the music with all his soul and conducted the whole opera without a score as if his life depended on it. He approached the music with great sensitivity, with careful consideration of every little detail in the score, allowing the music to breathe and flourish just as one opens a vintage bottle of expensive wine, we were able to taste every morsel and smell every possible aroma of the wine’s bouquet. The Orchestra responded to his command following his wishes to the best possible result. Musically we were treated to an exceptional musical performance, something that is a rare occurrence at the Greek National Opera.
One must mention the participation of the extremely talented Dimitris Yiakas who commented on the action from his cemballo.
All in all it was in my opinion a wonderful production which would benefit more if it was presented in an opera House and not at an open air theatre. I personally thoroughly enjoyed the performance which had many merits, certainly also some problems, but Houvardas realized that this is not a one man show, but an opera in which each character is equally important, and above all he treated it as a real piece of theatre. For me, it worked, and I hope that it will remain at the Company’s repertoire.
(Fotos by Stefanos)