April highlights at the Greek National Opera: Mahagonny and The Loser

Two German-language classics are in the spotlight at the Greek National Opera since the second week of April: Ektoras Lygizos has transformed Thomas Bernhard's novel "The Loser" into a fascinating new piece of music theater, which was first performed at the Alternative Stage on April 11. The exciting new production of "Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny" by Berthold Brecht and Kurt Weill started on April 12, directed by Miltos Logiadis and staged by Yannis Houvardas, in the GNO's Stavros Niarchos Hall.

The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny is a political and satirical opera based on the pointed political language of Bertolt Brecht and with music composed by Kurt Weill. The work describes the rise and fall of a city built for profit and pleasure, and is a critique of the capitalist system, as considered from within the ideological framework of interwar Germany’s Weimar Republic.

Weill composed some of his best-known songs for this opera –including “Alabama Song” and “Benares Song”– that would go on to be pulled out and sung separately by world-famous performers – everyone from Lotte Lenya to The Doors and David Bowie.

As was common in the early decades of the 20th century, and against a backdrop of dialogue between classical and commercial music, Kurt Weill experimented with various forms, such as jazz and ragtime, that he incorporated into the music vocabulary of the work.

The Greek National Opera has chosen the renowned Greek theatre director and former artistic director of the National Theatre of Greece, Yannis Houvardas, to lead the direction of this new production. Following the huge success enjoyed by his 2018 production of Janáček’s The Makropulos Affair, Houvardas is returning to the Greek National Opera to present the “golden city of our dreams that crumbles to dust and is effaced before our very eyes”, in a political reading, with moments of “exasperation and despair”. Alongside him, Eva Manidaki has designed the sets, Ioanna Tsami the costumes, Amalia Bennett the movement, Reinhard Traub the lighting, and Pantelis Makkas the video projections. Emily Louizou serves as associate director and Erie Kyrgia as associate dramaturg.

Yannis Houvardas notes the following about his new staging of this opera by Weill and Brecht: “Let us set off at last for Mahagonny, the golden city of our dreams that lies along the Shores of Solace, far from the bustle of the world. Here, in Mahagonny, life is glorious. But even here, in Mahagonny, there are moments of exasperation and despair. The time has come to crushingly answer God’s questions about our sinful lives. Glorious Mahagonny crumbles to dust and is effaced before our very eyes. Inside the epic, spectacular, and resolutely artificial world forged by Brecht and Weill, global capitalism dances in the spurred boots of Texan pioneers while holding the long-barrelled pistols of Wild West gunfighters. And when it sings, it takes on the macho voice of John Wayne and the delicate breathiness of girls whiling away all their time –day and night– inside the drunken saloons.”

The production is led by distinguished conductor Miltos Logiadis and features celebrated Greek soloists, such as Anna Agathonos, Christos KechrisTassos ApostolouMarissia PapalexiouVassilis Kavayas, Yannis KalyvasHaris AndrianosYanni Yannissis, and others.

Kurt Weill / Bertolt Brecht: Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny

12, 14, 19, 21, 23, 25 Apr 2024, 19.30 (Sunday at 18.30)

Conductor: Miltos Logiadis
Director: Yannis Houvardas
Associate director: Emily Louizou
Associate dramaturg: Erie Kyrgia
Sets: Eva Manidaki (Flux Office)
Costumes: Ioanna Tsami
Choreography, movement: Amalia Bennett
Lighting: Reinhard Traub
Video: Pantelis Makkas
Οn-stage camera: Dimitris Papadopoulos
Chorus master: Agathangelos Georgakatos

Anna Agathonos (Leokadja Begbick)
Christos Kechris (Fatty)
Tassos Apostolou (Trinity Moses)
Marissia Papalexiou (Jenny Hill)
Vassilis Kavayas (Jim Mahoney)
Yannis Kalyvas (Jack / Tobby)
Haris Andrianos (Bill)
Yanni Yannissis (Joe)
Maria Mitsopoulou, Hera Zerva, Liudmila Bondarenko, Antonia Despouli, Barunka Preisinger, Magda Tzavella (Six Girls)

Miltos Logiadis, conductor
with the Orchestra of the Greek National Opera

Main sponsor of the GNO: Stavros-Niarchos-Foundation (SNF)



The music theatre production The Loser, based on the novel of the same title by distinguished Austrian author Thomas Bernhard, will debut on the GNO Alternative Stage, at the SNFCC on 11 April and run for eleven performances until 26 April 2024. The work brings to life a fictional story about one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century, Glenn Gould, adapted and directed by the always artistically restless director, actor, and filmmaker Ektoras Lygizos.

The theatrical adaptation, based on Vassilis Tomanas’ translation, transforms the monologic narration of the original into a music-theatre piece for four voices and piano.

The legendary Canadian pianist Glenn Gould and two Austrian former classmates of his who went through life as failed pianists, Bach’s Goldberg Variations, the foyer of an abandoned hotel in Central Europe, and its owner, all compose a peculiar “oral musical” about genius, obsession and frustration.

The performance features a cast of distinguished actors: Aris Balis performs as the “failed” Wertheimer, Yiannis Niarros as Glenn Gould, Amalia Moutousi as the hotelier, and Ektoras Lygizos as the narrator.

A middle-aged man enters an abandoned hotel…  

… somewhere in the Austrian countryside. A few days earlier, he had received a telegraph notifying him that his friend, Wertheimer, had abandoned his nearby country house and had committed suicide. Waiting for the hotelier to show up, the anonymous narrator is overwhelmed by thoughts, as he recalls facts and conversations from his significant friendship with Wertheimer and Glenn Gould, one of the greatest pianists of the 20th century. Twenty-eight years before that, while the three of them were still aspiring pianist virtuosos, they attended a series of classes led by the famous Russian pianist Vladimir Horowitz. The narrator and Wertheimer’s encounter with Gould was overpowering. Listening to him play Bach’s Goldberg Variations in a class, the piece that made him rise to fame, they decide to give up the piano. The narrator begins working on a treatise about Glenn Gould, constantly tearing it up and rewriting it. Wertheimer, on the other hand, kept notes for an essay titled The Loser for decades. This nickname was given to him by Gould at the start of their acquaintance. Now, almost a year after the death of (the fictional) Gould at the age of 51 from heart attack while playing Goldberg Variations, and just a few days after Wertheimer’s suicide, the narrator, haunted by the presence of his deceased classmates, will meet the hotelier and former lover of Wertheimer. She will recount to him the last days of his friend before his suicide.

On the complex canvas

… of this fictional friendship between a legendary Canadian clavichordist (as he called himself) and two embittered Austrians who lived their lives as failed pianists, Bernhard writes in his well-known erratic style a short novel that serves as a vitriolic treatise on envy, ambition, fame, genius, perfectionism, obsession, and frustration. Through stories of despair accompanied by an endlessly caustic humor and a deep affection for all his wounded heroes, the author seems to build the entire story around the repetitive, circular structure of the Goldberg Variations (whih consist of a short music theme and its thirty variations), portraying the characters’ egocentricity, obssessive ideas, compulsions, and fixation on their unsurpassable dead ends in a tormenting yet delightful manner. Yet, at the same time, he doesn’t neglect to relentlessly criticise the moral decay of post-war Austria which, decades after the fall of Nazism and still imbued with cynicism and cruelty, continued to operate by the law of the absolute winner and desperate losers.

The place where the production is set

… like in the novel’s narrative present, is the foyer of an abandoned hotel in Central Europe, where, the anonymous narrator unravels his repetitive thoughts while his two dead friends are constantly present around him like ghosts, reproducing conversations, aphorisms and events of their common past. This fictional condition co-exists alongside the realistic portrayal of the narrator’s encounter and conversations with the hotelier, while the actor playing Gould constantly performs excerpts from the Goldberg Variations.

The key element of the production

… is the constant interplay between spoken dialogue and music: in this context, the piano is reminiscent of the musical accompaniment of a dance lesson, while Bach’s motifs intertwine with the spoken words, highlighting their musical qualities. However, making use of Gould’s famous habit of humming the notes while playing the piano, the actors use this occasional humming as an extra musical line in the productions’ overall score, which moves in the intermediate space between prose and music theatre, thus composing a peculiar “oral musical”.

Thomas Bernhard, Der Untergeher, in: ders., Werke 6, 1983 © Suhrkamp Verlag AG, Berlin 

Thomas Bernhard: The Loser 

11., 12., 13., 14., 18., 19., 20., 21., 24., 25., 26. April 2024, 20.30  (Sunday at 19.30)
Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera – SNFCC

Translation: Vassilis Tomanas
Theater adaption and stage director: Ektoras Lygizos
Musical consultant, vocal coaching: Kharálampos Goyós
Set designer: Myrto Lambrou
Costumes: Alkisti Mamali
Choreography and movement: Dimitris Mytilineos
Lighting designer: Dimitris Kasimatis
Make-Up and hairstyle design: Ioanna Lygizou
Sound Design: Brian Coon

Aris Balis (Wertheimer)
Yiannis Niarros (Glenn Gould)
Amalia Moutousi (Wirtin)
Ektoras Lygizos (Erzähler)

Main sponsor of the GNO: Stavros-Niarchos-Foundation (SNF) 

The production “THE LOSER” is part of the GNO Alternative Stage’s unit of programming titled “MUSIC THEATRE DAYS”, which falls under the ACT “FESTIVAL EVENTS OF THE GNO ALTERNATIVE STAGE 2024-2025” »  (Priority: “Fostering regional social cohesion through the enhancement of mechanisms and infrastructure to support employment, education, health care and socioeconomic inclusion” of the programme “Attica 2021-2027) and is co-financed by the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and National Resources.

Pictures: Giorgos Kalkanidis & Amalia Moutousi

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