The Greek National Opera presents an anthology piece comprising two magnificent one-act operas: one dramatic - Bluebeard's Castle in a new staging by Themelis Glynatsis; the other comic - Gianni Schicchi directed by John Fulljames. Two works that both premiered in the same year (1918), in Budapest and New York respectively. On 9, 12, 19 and 24 March 2023, Bartók's brooding and bloody masterpiece meets Puccini's light-hearted farce. The GNO Orchestra is to be conducted by the eminent Greek maestro Vassilis Christopoulos. This production is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to enhance the GNO's artistic outreach.
Bluebeard's Castle - Béla Bartók - New production
Director: Themelis Glynatsis
Sets, costumes: Leslie Travers
Movement: Katerina Gevetzi
Lighting: Stella Kaltsou
Projection design: Marios Gampierakis, Chrysoula Korovesi
Sound design: Tasos Tsigkas
Bluebeard: Tassos Apostolou
Judith: Violetta Lousta
Bluebeard's Castle by the Hungarian composer Béla Bartók is based on the folktale La Barbe bleue by Charles Perrault, published in 1697. A rare work of crisp concision and emotional intensity, Bartók's opera boasts just two characters - Bluebeard and his most recent wife, Judith. Wishing to learn more about her husband's past, Judith opens the seven doors inside Bluebeard's castle, one after the other. Behind each she finds a different world, untold riches, the glory and heroism of her husband - but also pain, tears, and blood. The symbolist text written by Béla Balázs gave Bartók the opportunity to compose one of his most impressive scores, one that makes full use of the timbres offered up by an exceptionally large orchestra -including even the imposing tones of a church organ- to delineate each of the work's images with incredible power.
The GNO has commissioned Themelis Glynatsis to stage this new production of Bluebeard's Castle - one of the most imaginative opera directors of the new generation, who has already presented two much-admired productions of contemporary opera on the Alternative Stage. Glynatsis has forged a universe of multiple realities and psychological trauma, repressed memories and unfamiliar spaces for the two lead characters to inhabit. The award-winning and internationally acclaimed set and costume designer Leslie Travers has created an impressive scenic installation that showcases the castle in which the Bluebeard tale unfolds as a palimpsest of places that constantly transforms. The costumes worn by the two protagonists are inspired by the formality and eroticism of the 1950s. Performing the title role is the internationally acclaimed GNO bass Tassos Apostolou, and appearing in the role of Judith is the soprano Violetta Lousta.
The work's director, Themelis Glynatsis, notes: «The Bluebeard folktale -one of the bloodiest stories in the Western canon- tells of an aristocrat who marries young women only to murder them when they defy his command forbidding them to explore his castle. Bartók transforms the Bluebeard story into a contemporary operatic thriller, one deeply mystical, suffused with symbolism, and marked by an uncommon psychological lucidity and emotional intensity. Bluebeard's Castle, the only opera the Hungarian composer ever wrote, is seen as one of the most important operatic works of the 20th century due to its ground-breaking music and dramaturgical approach. Bartók's music, in essence the work's third 'protagonist', not only brings to life the desires of the two leads and the dead-ends they face, but also -simultaneously, and with unparalleled mastery and musical daring- forges the labyrinthine universe of the castle, from the spine-tingling atmosphere of the torture chamber right through to the lyrical beauty of Bluebeard's magical garden. The work functions as a symbolist anatomy of an erotic relationship, and as a descent into the enigmatic psyche that lies hidden inside the mysterious blue-bearded duke. This production takes a conscious step away from the serial killer lore that usually trails the work to focus instead on a man and a woman on their wedding night, sinking gradually ever deeper into a universe comprising multiple realities and psychological trauma, repressed memories and unfamiliar spaces.»
Gianni Schicchi - Giacomo Puccini - Revival
Director: John Fulljames
Revival director: Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou
Sets, costumes: Richard Hudson
Lighting: Bruno Poet
Associate lighting designer: Robert Butler
Gianni Schicchi: Dionysios Sourbis
Lauretta: Vivi Sykioti
Zita: Julia Souglakou
Rinuccio: Yannis Christopoulos
Gherardo: Yannis Kalyvas
Nella: Diamanti Kritsotaki
Gherardino: Alkinoos Kypriotis / Iasonas Frangopoulos
Betto di Signa: Vangelis Maniatis
Simone: Christophoros Stamboglis
Marco: George Mattheakakis
La Ciesca: Siranous Tsalikian
Maestro Spinelloccio: Kostis Rassidakis
Ser Amantio di Nicolao: Haris Andrianos
Pinellino: Nikolas Douros
Guccio: Georgios Papadimitriou
The second part of this double bill -a polar opposite to the evening's first work- brings a dark, borderline grotesque comedy to the stage: Gianni Schicchi by Giacomo Puccini. Known mainly for his intensely emotional melodramas La bohème, Tosca and Madama Butterfly, the great Italian composer astounded one and all with how successfully he tackled a comic theme in Gianni Schicchi. The libretto by Giovacchino Forzano is based on an episode that appears in Dante's Divine Comedy. Following the death of a rich man, the wily Gianni Schicchi helps the relatives of the departed -and himself above all, of course- to pocket his substantial estate.
The similarities between Gianni Schicchi and the equally comic Falstaff are obvious but, in contrast to Verdi, Puccini does not portray specific, individualised characters with his music but rather -in the manner of the commedia dell'arte tradition- renders stock character types. On its first presentation in Rome, in 1919, the work was considered the composer's most sparkling and, as such, considerably welcome in the bleak moments following the First World War. With incredible expressive economy and only the most essential of musical strokes, Puccini creates portraits capturing each of the many relatives, and naturally the protagonist too. The opera is also famous for its short aria «O mio babbino caro» («O my dear papa»), which Maria Callas regularly performed separately at her recitals.
The GNO is reviving one of its most popular productions, directed by John Fulljames, that was programmed by its then Artistic Director Stefanos Lazaridis to premiere during the 2007/08 season at the Olympia Theatre. The revival is directed by Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou, with sets and costumes by Richard Hudson. Performing the title role is the internationally acclaimed GNO baritone Dionysios Sourbis, and appearing with him are both established and emerging GNO soloists, including: Vivi Sykioti, Julia Souglakou, Yannis Christopoulos, Yannis Kalyvas, Diamanti Kritsotaki, Vangelis Maniatis, Christophoros Stamboglis, George Mattheakakis, Siranous Tsalikian, Kostis Rassidakis, Haris Andrianos, Nikolas Douros, and Georgios Papadimitriou.