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With the Orchestra, Chorus and Soloists of the GNO
The presale of tickets will start soon
Mikis Theodorakis Cycle
Greek National Opera Stavros Niarchos Hall
Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center
Starts at 19.30 |
This production, part of a tribute to the 2021 bicentennial of the Greek Revolution, is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) [www.SNF.org].
With the kind support of
A performance of Axion Esti by the GNO forces in the context of the tribute to the 200th anniversary of the Greek War of Independence carries with it irresistibly symbolic associations. Fruit of that fertile and largely euphoric period of Modern Greek history, the early ‘60s, when the trauma of the Greek Civil War was progressively receding in the past, and new collectivities were enthusiastically seeking cultural expression, this paradoxically-named “popular oratorio” (or “people’s oratorio”) by Mikis Theodorakis (after the poet Odysseus Elytis’ magnum opus) was not only a watershed for Greek music and the career of its creator (“an ending that is (should be) also a beginning”, he writes) but, at the same time, a virtually revolutionary gesture of osmosis between the aesthetic and the political, the intelligentsia and the people, art and life.
Written at the behest of Elytis himself in 1960-61, during the period of Theodorakis’ controversial turn to popular music that began with his musical setting of Yannis Ritsos’ Epitaph, Axion Esti was released only in 1964 –the year of the international phenomenon of Zorba the Greek, and also when Theodorakis was elected to parliament with the United Democratic Left, in a seat associated with the murdered activist Grigoris Lambrakis. The delay was due to the composer’s search for the fragile balance required by his daring wager to synthesise folk-like material with the European tradition, as well as to the gradual, patient work of habituating the general audience to symphonic aesthetics through the activity of the Little Orchestra of Athens, founded by Theodorakis in 1962.
The result justified the composer and unexpectedly became his most commercially successful work. This success was, undoubtedly, due also to the symbolic (in addition to the artistic) gravitas of the original performers: the actor Theodoros Dimitrief as the baritone-Cantor; the folk singer Grigoris Bithikotsis; and the actor Manos Katrakis (an icon of the Greek Left) as the Reader. In addition to that, the form of the work, which retains the proportions and stylistic trichotomy of Elytis’ poem while looking back at the structural models of Bach’s Passions and the Orthodox Divine Liturgy, provides a link to a notable body of mid-20th-century European works that combine neoclassical and religious musical references with timely ideological reckonings – such as Michael Tippett’s A Child of Our Time and Benjamin Britten’s exactly contemporary War Requiem.
An ark of “the people’s memory” (per Elytis’ poem) but also an artful trace of a particular era, Axion Esti remains a vibrant and provocative work, always open to new and surprising interpretative approaches.