A Greek National Opera triumph and a landmark work in Greece’s contemporary music landscape returns to the stage. The Murderess – an opera by GNO Artistic Director Giorgos Koumendakis that premiered in 2014 to great artistic and box office success – is coming to the Stavros Niarchos Hall on 3, 5, 28 and 30 December 2021. The libretto by Yannis Svolos is based on the novella of the same title by Alexandros Papadiamantis. Vassilis Christopoulos conducts and Alexandros Efklidis directs, with Mary-Ellen Nesi in the title role. This production is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) [www.SNF.org] to enhance the Greek National Opera’s artistic outreach.
|The 2014 Giorgos Koumendakis work The Murderess creates a startling musical world that marks an evolution in the composer’s distinct personal idiom. His music makes no attempt to bring the historical setting of Papadiamantis’ original work back to life; rather it seeks to bring the inner world of its lead character to life – to capture the psychological portrayal of Frangoyannoù. The opera score traces the Murderess’ every step, at times baring the innermost workings of her mind, at others plunging into the dark and bleak windings of her soul. There are points where the boundless loneliness felt by Frangoyannoù reigns supreme, and others where her scorn breaks through to provide moments of emotional release within the charged plot. “I let the music wander –to express the very psyche of Frangoyannoù freely, in an unforced way– so as to arrive at places that logic alone cannot reach,” notes the composer. He goes on: “I tried to close in on the hidden facets of a psychopathic (?), neurotic (?), forceful (?), domineering (?), undoubtedly complex character fleshed out by the sensational literary sensibilities of the superlative Papadiamantis. In fact, the dividing line between heroine and author very often melts away to leave but a single presence inside of me. Throughout the time I spent writing The Murderess, I tried to set aside all thought of her physical appearance, her age, her facial features, and instead focused my attentions on connecting with that mind which, as Papadiamantis wrote, ‘soared’.”
The Murderess can be considered a work of the Literaturoper genre as it is an opera based directly on a literary work. Yannis Svolos, who created the libretto, has distilled the storyline of The Murderess down to its essentials, while keeping the language of Papadiamantis pristine. Hadoula, known also as Frangoyannoù, is a put-upon middle-aged woman who has spent her entire life serving others – her parents and husband, her children and grandchildren. Now at the end of her tether, having grasped the difficulties and limitations faced by women in poor farming communities like her own, she comes to believe that her mission in life is to unburden the world of its girls. She starts by strangling her new-born granddaughter before going on a murder spree, smothering yet more girls. Fleeing the authorities through the mountains, Frangoyannoù decides to confess her crimes, but drowns in the sea while trying to reach the hermitage of Aghios Sostis (the Holy Saviour).
The directorial approach taken by Alexandros Efklidis seeks to capture the heroine’s psyche in ways that are poetic. The production is a balancing act between the largeness of scale demanded by the presence of multiple choruses and a multitude of characters, and the smallness of scale that is Frangoyannoù’s internal monologue. Alexandros Efklidis himself notes: “This opera by Giorgos Koumendakis focuses on the character of the Murderess and, through the use of music, spotlights something that is very difficult to capture in a straightforward staging of the story: the mental landscape of the heroine – her very psyche. The challenge here was to capture this precise element, to bring Frangoyannoù’s nightmarish world to life on stage. As a result, the opera unfolds as a monodrama, playing out from the highly subjective and disturbed perspective of its protagonist. Ultimately, Giorgos Koumendakis’ The Murderess is a balance between large scale and small, making use of four choral ensembles and a large orchestra to render the subtle, innermost nuances of the heroine’s state of mind, which is absolutely core to the action.”
The sets by Petros Touloudis, and his costumes (designed in collaboration with Ioanna Tsami), generate a dark, furtive, guilt-riven, and terrestrial world, where the “agonies” of Frangoyannoù enter into dialogue with the haunting natural landscapes of Skiathos island. A sense of Greekness, the expansive horizon – both are rendered on stage in a singular way. In Act II, during the hunt for Frangoyannoù, everything is turned on its head: rather than have the Murderess run for the mountains as Papadiamantis describes, the production delivers the exact opposite, with the Murderess standing perfectly still as the natural world spins around her, closes in on her, drowns her. The lighting design is by Vinicio Cheli.
Vassilis Christopoulos –the renowned maestro, and former Artistic Director of the Athens State Orchestra– conducts. Accompanying the Greek National Opera Orchestra are three solo musicians up on stage, as well as four choral ensembles. The male chorus, set at the back of the stage and acting as a basso continuo, focuses on the suffering inherent in human nature, while a large female chorus acts as a mirror of everyday life. A further small vocal ensemble, comprising four lamenting women, also performs choral music inspired by the polyphonic songs of Epirus. The Greek National Opera Children’s Chorus plays the role of a Greek chorus-like group of children who fuel the fire of Frangoyannoù’s criminal inclinations. Agathangelos Georgakatos is chorus master of the GNO Chorus, while Konstantina Pitsiakou is chorus mistress of the GNO Children’s Chorus.
The exceptionally demanding title role is played by Mary-Ellen Nesi, a renowned Greek mezzo-soprano who has carved out an international career, performing more than 40 major roles at leading opera houses across Europe, North America, and Asia, while also forging an impressive discography of recordings. Appearing alongside her is a cast of established and emerging Greek soloists.
by Giorgos Koumendakis
3, 5, 28 & 30 December 2021, 19.30 (Sunday 18.30)
Greek National Opera, Stavros Niarchos Hall – SNFCC
Libretto: Yannis Svolos, based on Alexandros Papadiamantis’ “social novel” of the same title
Conductor: Vassilis Christopoulos
Director: Alexandros Efklidis
Associate director: Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou
Sets: Petros Touloudis
Costumes: Petros Touloudis – Ioanna Tsami
Lighting: Vinicio Cheli
Chorus master: Agathangelos Georgakatos
Children’s chorus mistress: Konstantina PitsiakouFrangoyannoù (The Murderess) – Mary-Ellen Nesi
Maroussò – Anna Stylianaki
Ioassaf – Tassos Apostolou
Delcharò – Myrto Bokolini
Yannis Perivolàs – Vangelis Maniatis
Yannoù – Sophia Kyanidou
Xenoula’s mother – Fylli Georgiadou
First police officer – Yannis Christopoulos
A magistrate – Yanni Yannissis
Second police officer / Assessor – Nicholas Stefanou
Kriniò – Marilena Striftobola
Toula – Stelina Apostolopoulou
Myrsouda – Miranda Makrynioti
A doctor – Giorgos Papadimitriou
Amersa – Maria Konstanta
Konstantìs – Angelos Nerantzis
Lamenting women (polyphonic ensemble) – Alkmini Basakarou, Ioanna Forti, Martha Mavroidi, Maria Melachrinou
Lead Donor of the GNO: Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF)
Production sponsor: LIDL
About Giorgos Koumendakis
Giorgos Koumendakis is one of the most gifted and versatile Greek composers. His work is characterized by a variety of musical styles and the constant search of new directions. Apart from his numerous works of symphonic and chamber music (more than 170 titles), a large part of his artistic career has been devoted to composing music for the performing arts. He has been honored with important awards for his work, while he has collaborated with leading artists in the fields of theater, opera and dance. Since 2017, when he was appointed Artistic Director of the Greek National Opera, he follows his vision to help the organization find its place among the international world of opera.
About Alexandros Efklidis
Alexandros Efklidis is an opera director known for bringing a bold modern perspective to classical works as well as creating daring and impactful productions for works by contemporary Greek composers. Appointed Artistic Director of the Greek National Opera’s (GNO) Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Cultural Center (SNFCC) in 2017, he oversees and implements the guiding programming ethos of creating and presenting “non-dogmatic musical theater,” including commissioning new works and fostering relationships between new and established artists. In addition to the Greek National Opera, Efklidis has directed productions for the Athens Festival, Neuköllner Oper in Berlin, Thessaloniki Concert Hall, Opera of Thessaloniki, “The Beggars’ Operas” company, Municipal and Regional Theatre of Patras, and the Onassis Cultural Center, among others.
About Vassilis Christopoulos
Greek conductor, he has been director of the Athens State Orchestra (2011/14) and principal conductor of the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra (Konstanz, 2005/15). He has conducted such orchestras as Philharmonia Orchestra (London), Mozarteum Orchestra Salzburg, NDR Radiophilharmonie (Hannover), Philharmonic State Orchestra of Nuremberg, New Japan Philharmonic, Flanders Symphony Orchestra, Queensland Symphony Orchestra (Australia) and National Orchestra of the Loire Country (France). His operatic repertoire ranges from Baroque to the music of the 21st century. As a director of the Athens State Orchestra he renewed the repertoire and developed exceptional social and educational activities, while as a principal conductor of the Southwest German Philharmonic Orchestra he gave concerts in Switzerland, Italy, Austria, Greece, France, Spain, etc. In 2016 he was elected Professor of orchestra conducting at the Frankfurt Music Academy. At the GNO he has conducted with great success such operas as The Murderess, Elektra, Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk, Wozzeck and Le nozze di Figaro. He has been awarded the title of Knight of the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” of France.
About Mary-Ellen Nesi
One of the leading soloists of her generation, Greek mezzo-soprano Mary-Ellen Nesi has followed a significant international career in major theatres and festivals in Europe, USA and Asia. Her repertoire focuses on the pre-classical, baroque, classical and belcanto period, having sungmore than 40 leading roles in operas by Monteverdi, Handel, Vivaldi, Porpora, Gluck, Mozart, Rossini, Bellini, Donizetti, Massenet, Bizet, Verdi, etc. Mary-Ellen has collaborated with distinguished conductors and has recorded for Sony, Decca, Arkiv, Virgin, Deutsche Harmonia Mundi, MDG, Berlin Classics, Tafelmusik media, Dynamic. Moreover, she has given many recitals and baroque music concerts and has premiered works by contemporary Greek composers at home and abroad. For her recent solo album entitled Archetypon(MDG) on female portraits from Ancient Greece, she received enthusiastic reviews from the international press and was nominated for “Singer of the year” by the major German Opus Klassik awards. She has performed to great acclaim numerous roles at the Greek National Opera.
Find more information about the production here.
The Murderess will be broadcast online via Mezzo TV. Further GNO productions are available on the GNO TV website.
Photos: © V. Makris, A. Simopoulos