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Greek National Opera's Tribute Concerts Honoring Mikis Theodorakis Continue Throughout 2022–23 Season

The programs feature significant symphonic works, song cycles, and songs reflecting on Theodorakis’ experiences of war, exile, and persecution.

Greek National Opera's Tribute Concerts Honoring Mikis Theodorakis Continue Throughout 2022–23 Season

The Greek National Opera (GNO) continues its three-year cycle celebrating and commemorating Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis (1925-2021) throughout the 2022-23 season with concerts presented on its main stage, Stavros Niarchos Hall, and its Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center beginning in September and October.

The programs feature significant symphonic works, song cycles, and songs reflecting on Theodorakis' experiences of war, exile, and persecution as well as themes of humanity and hope. The concerts will feature the GNO Orchestra and Chorus, Children's Chorus, and special guest soloists and conductors, including many renowned proponents of the composer's works.

Mikis Theodorakis first collaborated with the GNO in the political transition period following the fall of the 1967-74 dictatorship, and his works have been presented by the company regularly since. In January 2021, the GNO announced a three-year cycle dedicated to his work. Originally conceived and planned with the composer, Theodorakis died in September 2021 aged 96 before the first concerts, turning the cycle into a requiem. Upon Theodorakis' death, GNO Artistic Director, Giorgos Koumendakis, said:

"Although Mikis seemed to have attained immortality, the day of his physical death has dawned to fill us with sorrow and signal the permanent end of an era in the most painful way. His great work, synonymous with contemporary Greek culture, will remain in our hearts and souls, unaltered in time. It is our duty to preserve it and pass it down to the next generations. Mikis' work exceeds the boundaries of music, singing, and art; it is an ode to the unending struggle for life and freedom."

The tribute cycle resumes on Saturday, September 24 at 8:30 p.m. with Mikis Theodorakis: A Trilogy on the Alternative Stage-the GNO's 300-400 seat multiform theater-featuring new arrangements of his song cycles Mauthausen, The Deserters, and Romancero gitano by arranger and conductor Thanassis Papathanassiou. The arrangements will showcase the sonorities of Vamos, an ensemble from Crete that combines folk instruments such as the Cretan lyra with Western orchestral instruments. GNO bass Tassos Apostolou will perform as the soloist in Mauthausen and The Deserters and vocalist Anna Koti will sing the Romancero gitano cycle.

This concert will be followed by a performance of Symphony No. 2: The Song of the Earth on Sunday, October 2 at 6:30 p.m. in the 1400-seat Stavros Niarchos Hall. It will feature the GNO Orchestra and Children's Chorus led by the GNO's Chief Conductor, Elias Voudouris, a major exponent of Theodorakis' symphonic works. Composed in 1980, the symphony draws source material from two of the composer's previous works written during his 1954-1960 period: Suite No. 1 (1957), and the ballet Antigone (1957-58). In the work's third movement, the Children's Chorus performs The Song of the Earth (with lyrics by the composer's brother Giannis Theodorakis), a short poetic piece incorporating elements of the composer's traumatic experiences of war, exile, and persecution. Greek pianist Titos Gouvelis, will be the soloist.

Another of his serious symphonic works, the 1969 oratorio March of the Spirit, is the centrepiece of a concert on Wednesday, October 5 at 7:30 p.m. in Stavros Niarchos Hall with the GNO Orchestra and Chorus led by up and coming Greek conductor Stathis Soulis. Soloists include internationally acclaimed Greek singer and political and cultural activist Maria Farantouri-a frequent and favored collaborator of Theodorakis since the 1960s-and GNO bass Tassos Apostolou. March of the Spirit is Theodorakis' second laïkó ("popular"-as in, 'of the people'-or "folk") oratorio (the first being Axion Esti). The piece was composed in the village of Zatouna in Arcadia during Theodorakis' banishment and house arrest by the Greek dictatorship of the time. Championing melodic simplicity and the use of folk instruments, and based on a patriotic poem by Angelos Sikelianos, the piece sought to send a clear message of opposition to the regime. The second part of the concert features a series of Theodorakis' most popular songs orchestrated for a large symphony orchestra and featuring Greek singer Thodoris Voutsikakis. Songs include "Streets of Old," "The Song of Songs," "The Laughing Boy," "Marina," "The Beautiful City," and "Dawn is Breaking."

On Sunday, October 16 at 7:30 p.m. a concert titled Mikis Theodorakis: French and Greek Poets will showcase a rarely heard cycle of works for voice and piano based on the poems of Paul Éluard, one of the founders of the Surrealist movement in Paris. Composed at the end of the 1950s, when the composer was living in Paris, the works were prohibited after initial performances by order of the poet's descendants, and did not resurface until the 1980s. They will be given their GNO premiere on the Alternative Stage by the pre-eminent bass Christophoros Stamboglis, accompanied by the pianist Giorgos Konstantinou. The works are presented alongside later settings of Greek poets by Theodorakis himself, as well as settings of French poetry by Igor Stravinsky, Reynaldo Hahn, and Kurt Weill-all composers who also spent part, or the whole, of their careers as émigrés in early-and mid-20th century Paris.

The following week, Theodorakis' daughter, Margarita Theodorakis, will narrate a piece titled Memories of a Little Girl at two performances Friday, October 21 and Saturday, October 22 at 8:30 p.m. on the Alternative Stage. Based on her father's songs and her autobiographical writings, Memories of a Little Girl juxtaposes her remembrances of growing up with her parents and grandparents from Asia Minor in the refugee neighborhood of Nea Smyrni, Athens-including the nightly raids of their home by the army during the military dictatorship, imprisonment, and exile-with the music of her legendary father and rare projected photos from the family archive. Soloists Panayotis Petrakis and Aggelos Theodorakis perform songs accompanied by The Deserters, a small breakaway ensemble from the famous Mikis Theodorakis Orchestra.

Following a break over winter, the tribute cycle resumes in spring 2023 with Mikis Theodorakis: The Hostage / Marc Blitzstein: Political Songs on Sunday, March 26 at 7:30 p.m. on the Alternative Stage. At the beginning of the 1960s, in the midst of the Cold War, Theodorakis set songs from Irish poet Brendan Behan's play The Hostage to music. Inspired by the liberation struggle of the Irish against the British, legendary songs such as the famous "The Laughing Boy" connected early on with Greek political struggles-initially in the aftermath of the anti-war activist Grigoris Lambrakis' murder and later during the military dictatorship-and are still recognized as symbols of social militancy today. During the same period, across the Atlantic, Marc Blitzstein put forth his own vision of political music theater, forming a distinctive language in works such as Reuben Reuben and Sacco and Vanzetti. The visions of these two composers with different paths but common revolutionary drive will be performed by mezzo-soprano Anastasia Kotsali and accordionist Kostas Zigkeridis, accompanied by pianist Giorgos Konstantinou.

The 2022-23 tribute concerts conclude in celebratory and future-focused fashion, bringing high school music student ensembles from Pallini Music High School into Stavros Niarchos Hall for a concert called Mikis Theodorakis: Tracing His Footsteps through Time on Thursday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m. The school's chamber orchestra, philharmonic orchestra, and chorus highlight the varied relationships between Theodorakis' music and Greek musical traditions including éntekhno (Greek art song) and Greek poetry and the school's laïkó (Greek folk) orchestra will perform some of his best-known songs and melodies. The Pallini Music High School, founded in 1988, was the first state music high school in Greece. In addition to its regular curriculum, the school introduced a number of annual music and educational events held at the school itself and at other venues, in partnership with a range of institutions that include the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, the Goethe-Institut Athen, L'Institut français de Grèce, Onassis Stegi, Megaron - The Athens Concert Hall, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus, and the Pallas Theatre.


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