Koumendakis's music does not attempt to revive an era, but to create an “inner revival” of the psyche of Frangoyannoù herself, the leading female character of the work. The composition follows every step of the Murderess, sometimes expressing her mental state, sometimes sinking into the gloominess of her dark soul. Occasionally, she gives the world a straight stare and at times she is lost in reverie. There are times we sense the boundless loneliness she experiences, whereas some other times sarcasm comes to release some of the pressure of the emotionally charged plot.
"I allowed the music to wander and express without constraints the inner psyche of Frangoyannoù, reaching to areas that reason fails to see. I tried to reach for the hidden corners of the psychopathological, psychoneurotic, dynamic, austere and undoubtedly complex personality incarnated through the compelling approach of the Grand Papadiamantis. In fact, much too often, the dividing line between the heroine and the author fades, becoming a single character inside me. While I was composing The Murderess, I tried to forget her physical appearance, her age, the features of her face and turn to and reach out for the mind, which, according to Papadiamantis, “is exalted”."
The action of the opera follows the action of the novella itself, focusing though on the essentials. Hadoula or Frangoyannoù is the leading character; a wretched middle-aged woman who has spent her life serving others: her parents, her husband, her children, her grandchildren. Her exhaustion and the realisation of the unfavourable position of women in poor, agrarian societies such as hers, leads her to the conviction that her mission in life is to free the world from the burden of girls. She sets about strangling her newly-born granddaughter and she commits yet again the crime of murder by drowning other girls too. The authorities pursue her in the mountains, and Frangoyannoù decides to confess her sins. However, in her effort to reach to the hermitage of Aghios Sostis, she is lost at sea.
The Murderess is placed under the heading Literaturoper, for it is an opera directly based on a literary piece of work. Surely, this is not a novel attempt; on the contrary, it is encountered in the very heart of the first stages of the opera history in the early 17th century, and much more intensely during the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, whereby the libretto is written in distinct accordance to the original literary text. Theatre and literature works by Ancient Greek authors, as well as by Metastasio, Shakespeare, Hugo, Mérimée, Goethe, Scott, Buchner, D’Annunzio, Hofmannstahl, Maeterlinck, Dostoyevsky, Gogol and Kazantzakis have been the basis of successful operas by baroque, classical, romantic and modern composers. Librettist Yannis Svolos says: “When I proposed George Koumendakis to compose an opera based on The Murderess by Papadiamantis, I was motivated by the intriguing core of the novella, the confrontation with the emotions that pile up through time in this emblematic piece of work, and also by my curiosity to watch it and hear it, while it is set in a contemporary musical language.”
The Murderess will be presented on stage under the direction of Alexandros Efklidis. Petros Touloudis designed the visual and stage installation, as well as the costumes along with Ioanna Tsami, whereas Vinicio Chelli is the production’s lighting designer. Alexandros Efklidis states: “George Koumendakis’s opera focuses on the character traits of the Murderess; through music, it highlights an element hard to render via a conventional staging of the novella: the heroine’s soul. What is at stake in this approach is whether it will manage to render this very element, breathing life into the nightmarish world of Frangoyannoù on stage. Consequently, the opera is played out as a monodrama through the subjective and disordered glance of its protagonist. After all, George Koumendakis’ Murderess oscillates between major and minor scales: the four chorus ensembles and the grand orchestra are conceived for the purpose of rendering these subtle, inner nuances of the heroine's soul which is the ultimate focal point of the action. The first staging of an opera is an immense – and rare – challenge for the creative team, as its members are required to stage the work without having heard it before and to work directly from the composer’s score.”
The stage installation by Petros Touloudis shows the landscape of a settlement by the sea. The Greek nature, the open horizon, as well as the unexpected turn of the pursuit (Act 2) are rendered with sensitivity and originality. So, instead of watching the Murderess taking to the mountains – as described by Papadiamantis in his novella –, we see that things work the other way round on stage: the Μurderess does not move; on the contrary, it is nature that revolves around her, surrounds her and chokes her, until she perishes.
Vassilis Christopoulos, the distinguished maestro and former Art Director of the Athens State Orchestra (KOA), is the conductor of the production. Apart from the solo singers, the composition requires a big symphonic orchestra (GNO Orchestra), three on-stage solo musicians (bayan, saxophone, percussions), as well as four choirs. In the background of the stage, the male chorus, chanting as an isokrate (ison holders or drone keepers in Byzantine music), focuses on the inflictions of human nature, whereas a large-scale female vocal ensemble functions as a mirror of the daily life. A much smaller second female ensemble of four women chanting funeral songs (mirologistres), performs choral parts based on the polyphonic tradition of Epirus. The GNO Children Choir (Chorus Mistress: Mata Katsouli) plays and sings the part of a young chorus, which feeds Frangoyannoù’s criminal nature. Agathangelos Georgakatos is the GNO Chorus Master.
Composer George Koumendakis says characteristically that the eponymous role is “of huge dimensions”, while it requires unprecedented stamina because Frangoyannoù is roughly two hours on stage, observing and manipulating everything. The leading role will be sung by Irini Tsirakidou (first cast) and Julia Souglakou (second cast).
Irini Tsirakidou made her debut with the opera Simon Boccanegra, as Amelia Grimaldi. She enjoys an international career of important performances in major opera houses and concert halls, such as La Scala of Milan, the Royal Opera House in London, the Gran Teatre del Liceu in Barcelona, the Carnegie Hall in New York, as well as in other lyric theatres in Europe, and North and South America (Bilbao, Rome, Trieste, Dallas, Tulsa, Minnesota, Strasburg, St Petersburg, Santiago, Amsterdam et. al.). She has won the Maria Callas Debut Artist of the Year Award for her performance in Rossini’s Ermione at the Dallas Opera.
Julia Souglakou studied singing in Athens and London on a “Maria Callas” scholarship. She has appeared in the Greek National Opera, Megaron the Athens Concert Hall, Megaron the Thessaloniki Concert Hall, the Athens and Epidaurus Festivals, as well as at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino. She has interpreted the roles of Donna Anna and Donna Elvira (Don Giovanni), Countess Almaviva (Le nozze di Figaro), Nedda (I pagliacci), Freia (Das Rheingold), Lady Macbeth (Macbeth), Leonora (Il trovatore), Mother (Il prigioniero), Brünnhilde (Götterdämmerung), and the leading roles in Anna Bolena and La Gioconda. She has also given chamber music concerts and personal recitals.
The cast of the production gives the public an excellent opportunity to enjoy the performances of renowned Greek singers (Elena Kelessidi, Tassos Apostolou, Nikos Stefanou, Dimitris Nalbantis, etc.), along with the voices of younger artists (Vangelis Maniatis, Niki Haziraki, Dionyssis Tsantinis and others).