STAVROS NIARCHOS FOUNDATION
364 Syggrou Avenue, Kallithea
COLLABORATOR IN DIRECTION, CHOREOGRAPHER
Eliza: Vassia Zacharopoulou (21, 23, 29/11 & 1, 5, 7, 13, 15, 19, 21, 24, 27, 29/12)
Christina Asimakopoulou (22, 24, 28, 30/11 & 6, 8, 12, 14, 20, 22, 26, 28, 31/12)
Higgins: Giannos Perlegkas
Michalis Titopoulos, Vassilis Dimakopoulos, Ioanna Forti, Elli Dadira, Maria Grampsa, Nicolas Maraziotos, Athina Dimitrakopoulou, Maria Alexandrou, Yiannis Maniatopoulos, Christos Rammopoulos, Nikolas Douros, Antonis Antoniadis, Magda Kafkoula, Electra Fragiadaki
Ticket prices: €18, €25
Students, children: €15
Book and Lyrics by Music by
ALAN JAY LERNER FREDERICK LOEWE
Adapted from George Bernard Shaw’s Play and
Gabriel Pascal’s Motion Picture PYGMALION
Original Production Directed by Moss Hart
Greek National Opera Alternative Stage
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
With English surtitles
Starts at: 20.00 (Sundays & 24, 26, 27/12 at 19.00 , 31/12 at 18.30) |
The “perfect musical”, Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s My Fair Lady, one of the most successful, important and popular musicals in the history of Broadway, is presented for the first time in Greece in its full-length music version by the Greek National Opera’s Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. From 21 November to the 31 December 2019, and for a run of 26 performances, My Fair Lady will be brought to life through the seducing and enigmatic world of cabaret in a production of lofty aesthetic value.
Based on George Bernard Shaw’s play Pygmalion, with prose, lyrics and music by the “amazing musical duo” Lerner and Loewe, the legendary musical goes up in the approved adaptation for two pianos, conducted by Stathis Soulis and directed by Ioannis Perlegkas, who also features in the leading role of Professor Higgins. The songs have been translated by Dimitris Dimopoulos and the prose by Maria Kyriazi and Ioannis Perlegkas. In the title role, two up-and-coming sopranos of the GNO, Vassia Zacharopoulou and Christina Asimakopoulou.
The romantic story of the distinguished phonetics professor Henry Higgins in early 20th-century London, who tries to transform a flower girl with a heavy, incomprehensible accent into a high society lady, is moved to an atmospheric cabaret drawn out of Toulouse Lautrec’s paintings and Bob Fosse’s dark cabarets. Precisely because, life is a cabaret!
Two pianos, voices, bodies and wild can-can dancing in a musical about the sex and class war, with wonderful songs such as I could have danced all night, which rightly remains to this day one of the most popular in the genre.
The performance is realized with the support of the grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to the Alternative Stage.
The Greek myth of Pygmalion and Galatea, which has been preserved, among others, in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, has been highly popular in Victorian England. It is upon this myth that George Bernard Shaw based his play Pygmalion (1912), which has in turn inspired the musical My Fair Lady with lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner and music by Frederick Loewe.
The musical My fair lady premiered in 1956 at Broadways’ Mark Hellinger Theatre with the dynamically up-and-coming Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle and Rex Harrison starring as professor Higgins, and was a huge success. The show was moved on two more Broadway stages and finally went down on 29 September 1962 after 2.717 performances, breaking the record at the time, and with proceeds amounting to 10 million dollars. Similarly, the show that went up at the London’s Drury Lane theatre on 30 April 1958 with the protagonists of the original production ran for 2.281 performances.
Equal to its theatrical fame and success was also the 1964 film adaptation directed by George Cukor, in which for commercial reasons, the still unknown Andrews was replaced by Audrey Hepburn. Soprano Marni Nixon lent her voice to the popular actress for the work’s songs, and the orchestra was conducted by André Previn. The film was honoured with eight Oscar awards, including the one for “Best Movie of the Year”.
The musical was revived on Broadway in 1976 for 377 performances, in 1981 for 181 performances, and more recently in 1993 for 165 performances at the Virginia Theatre with Richard Chamberlain in the role of professor Higgins.
Although the play -Pygmalion- and the musical – My fair lady- share the same story, it is the elements missing from the transfer of the one to the other that finally determine the style and quality of the latter. The biggest difference between the two versions lies in their end. Shaw had said that he wrote Pygmalion according to the models of Ibsenian works and especially A Doll’s House. Pygmalion does not have a happy ending as a romance – Eliza ends up with Freddy and not with professor Higgins.
The work’s composer Frederick Loewe was born in 1901 in Berlin to Austrian parents. In 1924 his father, a famous operetta star, was invited to appear in a production in New York and the then 23-year-old Fritz followed him to the USA. He carried with him all the Austrian-German music tradition, the nostalgic melody he used to listen to everyday at his home and his top studies in Berlin. He made use of all these elements in My fair lady, a work full of melodious music, waltz and other dances. However, this musical is not only a simple sequence of beautiful melodies. Always in a context determined by the genre’s conventions, lyrics and music are ideally matched, in order to express and convey to the viewer the characters’ emotional disposition at any time.
His collaboration with song writer and librettist Alan Jay Lerner passed down in history as Lerner and Loewe. In a span of three decades, from 1942 to 1960, and again from 1970 to 1972, the artistic duo created some of the most timeless music theatre and cinema hits, such as: Brigadoon (1947), Paint your wagon (1951), My fair lady (1956), Camelot (1960), as well as the musical-romance film Gigi (1958). Their last collaboration took place in 1974 and it was on the musical film The little prince.
As to the musical My fair lady, special mention is due to Trude Rittman, who was responsible for the two-piano adaptation. Rittman was a music and vocal arranger for Broadway artists, such as Richard Rogers and Oscar Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, Irving Berlin, Jerome Robbins and Agnes de Mille.
The direction of the musical My fair lady bears the stamp of Ioannis Perlegkas, one of the most restless composers of his generation, who returns twice as strong to the GNO’s Alternative Stage after the sweeping success of Iannis Xenakis’ performance The Bacchae that was presented in summer 2018. Regarding the work’s directorial approach he notes: “The place where Eliza’s story unfolds is 1912 London, just as we know it from Dickens or Chaplin: a cruel, class-divided big city, in which the poor beg, starve and die outside the Covent Garden opera house, where the multitudes of well-dressed Londoners gather to listen to Wagner’s Twilight of the gods. The world of cabaret, vaudeville, music halls, mixed folk spectacles in which singing, prose and dance harmonically co-exist, appeared to us as the most appropriate setting to revive anew this harsh love story of social divide. Besides, before the genre of musical was handed over to Hollywood, which added to it a touch of glamour, it was a genre that had flourished in the underground folk music haunts, where poor cabaret boys and girls were trying to make a living.”
Loukia Houliara’s sets and costumes, with multiple references to Toulouse-Lautrec’s paintings, vaudeville scenes from Fellini’s films, and Bob Fosse’s dark cabarets serve as a parallel narrator of the story.
The lyrics translation is by Dimitris Dimopoulos and the prose translation by Maria Kyriazi and Ioannis Perlegkas. Dimitra Efthymiopoulou is a collaborating director and choreographer on the performance, and Nikos Vlasopoulos is the lighting designer.
The up-and-coming sopranos of the GNO, Vassia Zacharopoulou and Christina Asimakopoulou perform the taxing role of Eliza. Alongside them, an excellent cast of soloists and actors, Michalis Titopoulos, Vasilis Dimakopoulos, Ioanna Forti, Elli Dadira, Maria Grampsa, Nicolas Maraziotis, Athina Dimitrakopoulou, Maria Alexandrou, Yiannis Maniatopoulos, Christos Rammopoulos, Nikolas Douros, Antonis Antoniadis, Magda Kafkoula, Elektra Fragiadaki.
Stathis Soulis and Victoria-Fjoralba Kiazimi perform on the piano.
The first encounter between Professor Henry Higgins, the brilliant, crotchety, middle-aged bachelor who is England’s leading phoneticist, and Eliza Doolittle, the little cockney gutter sparrow, takes place near the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, late on a cold March night. Eliza is selling violets. Higgins is out on his endless quest for new dialects of London’s speech (“Why Can’t The English?”). A handsome young aristocrat, Freddy Eynsford-Hill, takes no notice of her when she tries to sell him violets (“Wouldn’t It Be Loverly?”). Colonel Pickering, also a linguistic expert, comes to stay with Higgins at his flat. Eliza’s squalid father, Alfred Doolittle, outlines his optimistic if somewhat unorthodox philosophy of life in the rousing “With a Little Bit of Luck.”
Eliza comes to Higgins’ flat to be instructed in the English language, in order to transform herself into a “lidy.” Pickering challenges Higgins to “metamorphose the guttersnipe into a paragon of verbal correctitude.” Higgins looks upon her not as a person but as raw material for his experiment; he drills Eliza for weeks. As no hint of progress is made, Eliza loses her courage, Higgins loses his temper, and even Pickering’s patience wears thin. In her anger and futility, Eliza creates a set of mean fantasies involving her professor (“Just You Wait”). At last she improves, and they all proclaim the victor in “The Rain in Spain.”
In the flush of his first success, Higgins puts Eliza to a preliminary test. He will introduce her to his mother’s snobbish guests at the Ascot Race Meeting the following week. Eliza expresses her own towering exaltation in “I Could Have Danced All Night.” Eliza, strikingly pretty in her new gown and hairdo, appears at the races (“Ascot Gavotte”). Instructed to restrict her conversation to the weather and everyone’s health, she says her little set pieces flawlessly. The illusion is shattered when her enthusiasm for the horse she is backing impels her to indulge in a bout of violently unladylike cheering.
Freddy Eynsford-Hill falls hopelessly in love with the new Eliza, and later pours out “On the Street Where You Live” at her window. Six weeks later, Higgins – in a crucial test – presents Eliza at a full-dress Embassy ball. She is the object of admiration, and everyone speculates on her identity. It becomes obvious that Eliza must charm Karpathy, a European phonetics expert. At the height of the ball, Karpathy invites her to dance and comments on the pureness of her English.
Pickering and Higgins, back at the flat, indulge in self congratulation (“You Did It”). Neither of them takes into account Eliza’s personal accomplishment in the matter. Eliza has absorbed the sophistication and the courage to see the unfairness of this, and she blows up, demanding recognition. The Professor is not so much affronted as astonished; it is as though a statue had come to life and spoken.
Infuriated and frustrated, Eliza storms out of the house. She encounters Freddy and turns her fury on him (“Show Me”). Eliza aimlessly walks the streets of the town the remainder of the night. She encounters her father, drunk and dressed for a fashionable wedding. He has become wealthy, and Eliza’s mother is marrying him at last (“Get Me to the Church on Time”).
Higgins discovers that he is hurt because Eliza left him. He meets her at his mother’s flat where she has gone for advice. They argue violently (“Without You”) and she storms out. It is only a moment after her departure that Higgins finally wakes up to the fact that Eliza has become an entirely independent and admirable human being. He realizes that he will have a difficult time getting on without her (“I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face”).
Back at his flat, he sinks into his chair prepared to face a bleak, lonely future. But just then – a moment before the final curtain falls – a figure emerges from the shadowy corner of the room, and Higgins recognizes Eliza. He leans back with a long, contented sigh and speaks softly: “Eliza? Where the devil are my slippers?”
– Copyright ©1962 by Alan J. Lerner and Frederick Loewe
Lerner and Loewe’s MY FAIR LADY is presented by arrangement with Tams-Witmark, A Concord Theatricals Company: www.tamswitmark.co.uk