Philippos Alexandros by Sarantis Kassaras (music and libretto)
Directed by Theodoros Pantsios
Philippos George Sofialidis
Alexandros Apostolos Sotiroudis
Olympias Anila Teli
Diogenes Yiannis Chouliaras
Demosthenes Theodoros Pantsios
Dancer Konstantina Chouliaras
First Chorus Leader Yiannis Vagienas
Second Chorus Leader Kostas Mylopoulos
Performed once on June 5, 2016 at the Vasiliko Theatro,
Callas, Souliotis, Paskalis, Baltsa, Theodossiou. That is not a bad list of Greek singers in opera even if some of them are slightly hyphenated.
Oh, you want Greek operas? The Greek National Library has hundreds of them but the chances that you have heard or seen many of them are not great. Let’s face it, Greek opera can best be described by that fine Hellenic word oxymoron. It is a contradiction in terms.
But don’t tell composer Sarantis Kassaras that. He composed Philipos Alexandros in 1994 and the opera was not performed until December 2015 when the Greek Community of Luxembourg staged it for the first time. The opera received its Greek premiere on June 5, 2015 at the Vasiliko Theatro Thessalonikis as part of the First International Conference of the Alexander Son of Philip Greek Macedonian Society (SAFEM).
The production was an unexpected bonus at a conference dealing with the legacy of Philip II and his son Alexander the Great. The plot deals with the relationship between the two great men and the dream of uniting the Greeks under one leader to confront the mighty Persian Empire.
Apostolos Sotiroudis as Alexander is a scrawny youth who handled the vocal demands of the role without exuding heroic prowess. Baritone George Sofialidis commanded authority vocally as King Philip although I could have done without the gold leaves on his head representing his royal crown, no doubt.
Soprano Anila Teli as Oympias had a formidable regal bearing with a strong upper register and fine vocalizing throughout. Yiannis Chouliaras with his gravelly voice was a fine comic representation of Diogenis the Cynic who told Alexander to step aside because he was shading the sun.
Theodoros Pantsios in a dramatic red tunic looked every inch the fiery Athenian orator who hated the Macedonians.
The opera has a male and a female chorus. The women wore lovely white dresses of classical design that matched their voices very nicely. The men wore a motley of cloaks slung over their shoulders but sung quite well.
Kassaras’s music has traditional and modern elements. There are strong rhythmic elements as well as melodic pieces. The music is scored for piano (played by the composer who also conducts the performance), harp (Yiota Miserli), trumpet (Kostas Damianidis), saxophone (Tetiana Masmanidou) and percussion (Stefanos Gazilas). The players are from the Orchestra of the Association of Musicians of Northern Greece. The Vasiliko Theatro has no pit and the orchestra played from the side of the ample stage.
The opera was directed by Theodoros Pantsios. It has elements of baroque chamber operas in its structure and some static features.
There is a handful of opera productions in Athens but almost none in Thessaloniki, Greece’s second largest city. The production is worth praising for that alone but for much more as well.
Oxymoron can mean sharp-dumb. If Kassaras had his choice he would remove “moron” from the issue of opera in Greece and make it a more familiar element in the Greek cultural landscape.