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The National Opera presents in a modular performance two great operatic one-act plays – a dramatic one, “Pyrgos tou Kyanopogona” under new direction by Themelis Glynatsis, and a comedic one, “Janni Skikki” under direction of John Fuljames – which were premiered in the same year (1918) in Budapest and New York, respectively. On March 9, 12, 19, and 24, 2023, in the Stavros Niarchos Hall of the ELLS at the SNFCC, Béla Bartók’s dark, blood-curdling masterpiece will meet Giacomo Puccini’s light, light-hearted farce. The Orchestra of the National Opera is conducted by the distinguished Greek chief musician Vassilis Christopoulos. The production is implemented with the support of the donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to strengthen the artistic extroversion of the National Opera.

Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s “Tower of the Cyanopogon” is based on Charles Perrault’s fairy tale “The Cyanopogon” (1697). Rarely condensed and emotionally intense, Bartók’s opera features just two characters, Cyanopogon and his most recent wife, Judith. As she wants to know about her husband’s past, Judith opens one of the seven doors of Cyanopogon’s castle. Behind each she discovers a different world, the untold riches, heroism and glory of her husband, but also pain, tears, blood and cruelty. Béla Balazs’s symbolist text gave Bartók the opportunity to compose one of his most impressive scores, utilizing the timbres of the instruments of an extremely large orchestra, which includes even the imposing sound of the church organ and captures with incredible power each of the mysterious images of the work.

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For the new production of “Tower of Cyanopogon” ELS assigned the direction to Themelis Glynatsis, one of the most creative opera directors of the younger generation, who has signed two successful productions of contemporary opera at the Alternative Stage. Themelis Glynatsis creates for the two characters of the play a universe of multiple realities, mental traumas, hidden memories and open spaces. Award-winning and internationally acclaimed British set designer and costume designer Leslie Travers creates an impressive stage installation where the tower in which the story of the Cyanopogon takes place emerges as a palimpsest of ever-transforming places. The costumes of the two protagonists are inspired by the rigor and eroticism of the 50s. The title role is performed by the internationally recognized bass player of the ELLS, Tasos Apostolou, while Judith is played by the treble player Violetta Lousta.

Themelis Glynatsis notes: “The tale of Cyanopogon, one of the most bloodthirsty narratives in the Western tradition, tells of an aristocrat who marries young women only to then murder them when they defy his ban on exploring his castle. Bartók transforms the story of Cyanopogon into a modern opera-thriller, deeply mysterious, full of symbolism, with rare psychological clarity and emotional intensity. Cyanopogonas, the only opera of the Hungarian composer, is considered one of the most important lyrical works of the 20th century due to its groundbreaking musical and dramatic style. The music of Bartók, the third “protagonist” of the story, not only brings to life the desires and impasses of the two characters, but simultaneously shapes with unparalleled inspiration and musical daring the labyrinthine universe of the tower, from the chilling atmosphere of the torture chamber to the lyricism of the magical garden of Cyanopogon. The play functions both as a symbolic anatomy of a love affair and as a descent into the psychic enigma hidden by the mysterious Duke Cyanopogonas. The show consciously moves away from the serial killer mythology that usually follows this work, and focuses on a man and a woman on their first night of marriage, who are gradually immersed in a universe of multiple realities, traumas, hidden memories and open spaces ».

In contrast to the first play of the evening, the second play brings to the stage a black comedy bordering on the grotesque, “Gianni Schicchi” by Giacomo Puccini. The leading Italian composer, although he remains known mainly for his intensely emotional melodramas (Boheme, Tosca, Madama Butterfly), surprises with the success with which he handles the comic theme of “Gianni Scicchi”. Giovaccino Forzano’s poetic text is based on an episode from Dante’s Divine Comedy. After the death of a rich man, four-legged Gianni Scicchi helps the relatives of the deceased, but above all of course himself, to “put in hand” the great inheritance.

The analogies of Gianni Scicchi with the also-comedian Falstaff are obvious, but, unlike Verdi, Puccini with his music does not outline specific persons, but following the tradition of Commedia dell’arte he renders types of people. When it premiered in Rome in 1919, the work was considered the composer’s brightest, which was especially welcome in that gray era after the end of the First World War. With incredible economy and barely any musical touches, Puccini sketches the portrait of each of the several relatives and of course that of the protagonist. The opera is also known for its short aria “O mio babbino caro” (“My sweet father”), which Maria Callas used to perform outside the program, after her recitals.

ELLS is reviving one of its most successful productions directed by the important British opera director John Fuljames, which was planned by its then director Stefanos Lazaridis and first presented in the 2007-08 artistic season at the Olympia Theatre. The revival is directed by Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou, while the sets and costumes are by Richard Hudson. In the eponymous role, the internationally recognized baritone of the LES Dionysis Sourbis and with him acclaimed and younger protagonists of the LES, such as Vivi Sykiotis, Tsoulia Souglakou, Yannis Christopoulos, Yannis Kalivas, Diamantis Kritsotakis, Vangelis Maniatis, Christoforos Stamboglis, Giorgos Matthaiakakis, Siranous Tsalikian, Kostis Rasidakis, Haris Andrianos, Nikolas Douros and George Papadimitriou.