Les éclairs
Philippe Hersant


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Stavros Niarchos Hall


Les éclairs

Philippe Hersant
In co-production with the Opéra Comique (Paris)
  • 16, 19, 21 Nov 2023

Opera - New production

Stavros Niarchos Hall of the Greek National Opera - SNFCC

Starts at: 19.30 (Sunday at: 18.30)| clock


Lead Donor of the GNO & Production donor


Production sponsor: PPC (Public Power Company)

new DEI Logo CMYK 2H

The contemporary opera Les éclairs is the Greek National Opera's second co-production with the Opéra Comique (Paris), one of Europe's most important opera houses. At this national premiere, and for three performances only -on 16, 19 and 21 November 2023 inside the Stavros Niarchos Hall at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center- Greek audiences will get the chance to discover the third opera to be written by the multi-award winning French composer Philippe Hersant, with a libretto by the internationally renowned French author Jean Echenoz. The opera is a musical journey through New York during the Industrial Revolution that traces the turbulent life of the ethnic Serb cosmopolitan dandy and mad scientist Nikola Tesla. This production is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to enhance the GNO's artistic outreach.

The strategic partnership between the Greek National Opera and the Opéra Comique (Paris) was launched in July 2023 by an exceptionally successful production of Jacques Offenbach's Le Voyage dans la Lune.

This partnership now continues with Philippe Hersant's Les éclairs, a playful drama in four acts. Commissioned by the Opéra Comique, the opera received its world premiere in Paris on 2 November 2021, garnering the warmest of applause from audiences and the acclaim of critics. Les éclairs delves into the fate of Nikola Tesla, known as Gregor in this opera - one that teeters between fairy tale and drama. Arriving in New York in 1884, Gregor is haunted by his visions. He wants to develop revolutionary applications of electrification but makes the mistake of prioritising science over profit. When industrialists plunder and pervert his inventions, he takes solace in lightning shows and the company of birds.

Tesla was born in 1856, in what was then the Austrian Empire. Right up until his death in New York in 1943, corporations and the public have been torn when it comes to the contentious use of his inventions, when Tesla himself had only one aim: the broader application of his discoveries for the benefit of humankind. In 2010, seven years after Tesla's archive and patents were added to the UNESCO Memory of the World Register, Echenoz published a biography of the scientist titled Des éclairs (Lightning).

In 2016, the Opéra Comique commissioned the author to write a new libretto titled Les éclairs based on his book about Tesla. This is one of those rare instances where an opera libretto existed before the music had been written - and in fact, before a composer had even been selected. Three years later, the Opéra Comique commissioned the composer Philippe Hersant to write a new opera based on Echenoz's text. The production would be created in 2021, conducted by Ariane Matiakh, directed by Clément Hervieu-Léger, and featuring the work of a young team of Opéra Comique artists.

French composer Philippe Hersant, known for his originality and dynamism, was born in Rome in 1948 but lives and works in Paris. He studied music at the Conservatoire de Paris where, in 1968, he entered the class for composition led by André Jolivet. He went on to be scholar-in-residence at both the Casa de Velázquez in Madrid (1970-1972) and the Villa Medici in Rome (1978-1980). His long and multi-faceted career as a composer has produced pieces for choir, orchestra and chamber ensembles, for ballet, theatre and cinema, and more. Prior to Les éclairs, he composed his first opera -Le Château des Carpathes- back in 1992, commissioned by Radio France, and went on to write his second opera -Le Moine noir- in 2006, commissioned by Oper Leipzig. Les éclairs has been nominated for the Fondation Prince Pierre de Monaco Musical Composition Prize 2024. He is considered one of the most important French composers of contemporary music and has been awarded numerous prizes and honours, including Le Grand Prix musical de la Ville de Paris, Le Prix de composition musicale de la Fondation Del Duca, Le Grand Prix Lycéen des Compositeurs, and three awards at Les Victoires de la Musique Classique, to name but a few.

The internationally acclaimed French author Jean Echenoz was born in Orange in 1947 and lives in Paris. The fifteen books he has written to date are published by Les éditions de Minuit. His immense talent drew attention from his very first novel, Le Méridien de Greenwich, which won the Prix Fénéon for best novel by a young writer (1980). He would also go on to win the Prix Médicis (1983) for Cherokee and the Prix Goncourt (1999) for Je m'en vais. In 2010, Echenoz published his fourteenth novel, Des éclairs - a biography of Tesla featuring a mixture of real and imagined events, in the vein of his previous two books: Ravel (2006), for which he won the Prix François-Mauriac, and Courir (2008), based on the life of the long-distance runner Emil Zátopek.

The production's successful staging is by Clément Hervieu-Léger, who studied at the Conservatoire de Paris under Jean-Louis Bihoreau before becoming a member of the Comédie-Française in 2005 and going on to join its administrative board in 2018. As an actor, he has worked major directors, including Robert Wilson. He has directed a series of productions at the Comédie-Française and, in 2010, co-founded -with Daniel San Pedro- La Compagnie des Petits Champs, which won the 2020 Grand Prix du théâtre du Syndicat de la critique for its production of Une des dernières soirées de Carnaval. In May 2021, he was elected president of the Société d'Histoire du Théâtre.

Helming the orchestra is the acclaimed Greek maestro and Chief Conductor of the GNO Elias Voudouris. Staging the revival is the talented French director CIaire Pasquier, while Frédérique Plain serves as an artistic collaborator on the production. The impressive sets are by Aurélie Maestre, with costumes by Caroline de Vivaise. The lighting design is by Bertrand Couderc, while the sound design is by Jean-Luc Ristord. Agathangelos Georgakatos serves as chorus master of the GNO Chorus.

Performing on stage are a series of established and emerging Greek soloists: Haris Andrianos, Nefeli Kotseli, Yannis Kalyvas, Chrissa Maliamani, Yannis Selitsaniotis, Marios Sarantidis, Michalis Platanias, Yannis Stamatakis, Panagiotis Pantoulias, Vassilis Kotsikoyannis, Nektarios Samartzis, Christos Lazos, and Theodoros Moraitis.



Travelling on the deck of a transatlantic liner, a young engineer -Gregor- arrives in America with a letter of recommendation addressed to the powerful industrialist Thomas Edison. Towards the end of this ocean crossing, he is given the chance to showcase his talents by repairing the ship's dynamo, damaged during a storm.
In an interview with Betty, the first woman reporter to work at the New York Herald, Edison comes across as a man driven by ambition and dripping with cynicism. He is willing to take Gregor on, but only in order to set him the challenge of improving his electrical generator concept. Even though Gregor manages to increase the power of this machine tenfold, Edison fires him instead of paying him and vows to thwart Gregor's career.
A short time later, Betty discovers that Gregor has become a workman to make ends meet. She introduces him as a singular genius to Parker, a wealthy businessman seeking promising investment opportunities. Parker takes Gregor under his wing.


Thanks to Parker, Gregor now lives in luxury, free to develop his own research and moving in New York high society circles. At a function, he meets the philanthropist Norman Axelrod and his wife, Ethel; Gregor and the couple immediately share a mutual affection and admiration.
Edison decides to tarnish the reputation of Gregor's inventions, particularly that of alternating current. He organises public electrocutions of animals, followed by the first test of an electric chair to kill a man on death row, inviting journalists -including Betty- to report on the event.
In the court of public opinion, however, Gregor wins the electrification war. But the recognition he garners weighs heavily on him and so Gregor leaves New York to continue his work in Colorado.


Convinced that he can contact alien civilisations, Gregor returns from Colorado with a desire to develop an energy source that is free to be used by all, for the benefit of humankind. Everything he now stands for make him seem more of an eccentric than a genius, despite the protections he is afforded by Ethel, who defends him in the press, among whom only Betty believes she understands his position.
However, this uproar and Gregor's altruism prove damaging for business, and so Parker withdraws his support and breaks their contract.


Gregor now only associates with the Axelrods. Norman continues to see Gregor as the face of the future. Ethel tells Gregor she loves him and wants to take him to Europe in order to relaunch his career. But Gregor refuses to betray Norman.
Gregor now no longer derives any income from his research. He focuses his attentions on feeding the pigeons in his neighbourhood, while Edison's technological empire thrives.
Ethel confesses her love for Gregor to Norman and leaves him. But Gregor, in his shabby hotel room, no longer exists for anyone but himself.

Conductor: Elias Voudouris
Libretto: Jean Echenoz
Director: Clément Hervieu-Léger
Revival director: CIaire Pasquier
Artistic collaboration: Frédérique Plain
Sets: Aurélie Maestre
Costumes: Caroline de Vivaise
Lighting: Bertrand Couderc
Lighting revival: Enzo Cescatti
Sound design: Jean-Luc Ristord
Chorus master: Agathangelos Georgakatos

Haris Andrianos

Ethel Axelrod
Nefeli Kotseli

Norman Axelrod
Yannis Kalyvas

Chrissa Maliamani

Yannis Selitsaniotis

Marios Sarantidis

The captain, a servant, Edison's assistant
Michalis Platanias

Second captain, the coroner
Yannis Stamatakis

Panagiotis Pantoulias, Vassilis Kotsikoyannis

Edison's assistants
Nektarios Samartzis, Christos Lazos, Theodoros Moraitis

With the Orchestra and the Chorus of the Greek National Opera

Ticket prices: €15, €20, €25, €30, €35, €40, €45, €60
Students, children: €12
Limited visibility seats: €10


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