In the last few years Greeks became obsessed with the personality an work of one of the most important Greek painters , El Greco.. After an extensive exhibition of the Greek National Gallery, a piece written by Vangelis, and a film by Smaragdis, comes the turn of Yiorgos Hatzinassios with his opera “El Greco” presented at the newly restored Municipal Theatre of Piraeus a real jewel of a theatre with one of the best acoustics in Greece.
Y.Hatzinassios is one of the most important greek composers albeit not in the field of classical music, but as a songwriter. Shifting to an art form that intimidated giants such as Beethoven , Schubert and Schumann, is not an easy task. Opera composition requires a variety of skills not only compositional but theatrical as well. The libretto was entrusted to the Greek poet Ilias Liamis who created a poetical libretto that centered on the painter’s search of the eternal light ,the inner spiritual light that permeates his paintings. For this particular performance it was translated into Italian by Carlo Torriani and Tania Kitsou, since the majority of the singers were not Greeks.
The music of Hatzinassios managed to fuse his inner feeling for melody with the great tradition of 20 th century opera especially influenced by the melodic structure of Verdi’s and Puccini’s operas. Long vocal languid phrases culminating into fortissimos was at the heart of the arias. The whole opera was greatly aided by the orchestration of the talented Cristian Carrara who worked miracles with the music.
I think that a good trimming, especially of Act One would greatly help the dramaturgical balance of the opera, since at some moments it seems to drag along.
Dario di Vietri this young charismatic tenor was the star of the evening. He possesses a true dramatic voice of phenomenal power. He sang the Wagnerian size part of El Greco with force, and a voice that responded to the exterminating demands of his role, since almost all the time he was singing at a high tessitura, enough to exhaust to the ground any tenor. The fact that he sung to the full and at top voice the entire evening his Zigfriedesque role , is a credit to his phenomenal technique and great musicianship. He is surely the rising star in the world of International Opera.
For me the revelation of the evening was the voice of Silvia Dalla Benetta who sung the roles of Sophia and Jeronyma. She has a fine coloratura voice of rare quality which combined with a solid technique, great breathing control -(her top note at her aria in Act One left the audience gasping with admiration)- was the joy of the evening. One wanted to hear more and more from this supple and flexible voice .
Marita Paparizou tackled the role of Silvana , a role that allowed her to demonstrate her dark round voice, especially at the scene were she sung a Cretan Lament with the accompaniment of a Cretan Lyre played with a mesmerizing sound by Dimitris Koumandakis. Her rendition of this song was exemplary and brought tears to the eyes of the audience.
Omar Kamata a young baritone sung the role of the painter Titian with a strong even rounded voice, he is an accomplished singer of the highest quality.
No stranger to the Greek audience was Carlo Torriani who undertook the role of Governor Molino. He is always a joy to listen to his ringing strong melodic voice which is suited both for Comic and Dramatic roles. He was very impressive and he sung with dramatic conviction and great musicianship.
Paul Zahariades created a very interesting role as Icarus, guiding El Greco through the various stages of his life. Although a male contralto, a kind of voice that usually sounds feeble and “disembodied” , Zahariadis’s voice is exceptionally strong and full bodied. His physique allowed him to move graciously onstage creating the image of a spirit in the form of an angel with wings.
Harris Andrianos who is a well known and much loved singer, always reliable to carry through the performance, sung the role of Manolios. His baritone voice with it’s lightness and flexibility was perfectly suited to the role.
Finally Ievgenii Gunko , an impressive cavernous voice of a real basso profondo- a rare voice in our time-, sung beautyfully the role of the Grand Inquisitor. I wish we will have the opportunity to hear him again in this country.
Finally last but not least the supporting minor roles were sung by H.Priftis (painter), H.Delizonas (painter, inquisitor), T.Ioannides (Palvicino, monk, inquisitor), and the dancer F.Kafoussias (Bacchus, Marquis de Cuevas).
A special mention must be made to the breathtaking dancing of Carlos Romero, a talented dancer from Spain, which any great Ballet Company should be proud to have him in its troop. I wish him a great career , for he fully deserves it. Riccardo Cue , the Director of the Royal Ballet of the Teatro Real of Madrid, undertook the choreography of the ballet.
Vassilis Anastasiou took upon his shoulders the difficult task of staging and directing the opera, no t an easy task for such a complex work. He opted for minimal yet functional sets which would help the action to the greatest possible effect. He created painting like scenes such as the banquet scene that seemed to pop up from art books. The inspired lighting of the famous Giuseppe di Iorio created an atmospheric effect, especially at the end of the opera. The movement of the actors were very well planned through by M.Thomopoulou.
Ledio Konxholli , a very talented artist, worked miracles with a limited budget as the costume designer. His costumes looked plush, rich, well made, yet simple with minimum ornamentation. This added greatly to their effect, and helped the singers to move freely onstage. Many times we have witnessed in various performances, heavy and disfunctional costumes that hinder the singers , not in this case.
The Orchestra “Armonia Mundialis” was conducted by Dariusz Mikulski, who was very attentive not only to the finer details of the music, but to the needs of the singers..rarely have I seen a maestro communicating with such immediacy with the pit and the stage. His energetic conducting never left space for a dull moment, he is truly a charismatic Maestro.
Finally the Chorus of the National Polytechnic School under the direction of Maestro Mihalis Economou sung wholeheartedly and with great energy, with the added support of the Chorus “Eptahordi Lira” under the direction of Ch. Tsimouri.
In “somma” it was an exciting very entertaining performance of a new opera that was supported fully by all who took part in it. They all gave their best performance, a rare occurence our days, especially in Athens. It is a performance which was sung by some of the best voices today and certainly deserves to be performed abroad.
Thanks are due to the School of Fine Arts that comissioned this work in such difficult times, after a suggestion by the “Petite Opera Du Monde”. The whole project was financed by ESPA 2007-2013.