Haris Vrondos has been one of the most consistent voices in the Greek music theatre scene of the last decades, having composed numerous operas. Two of his one-act chamber operas, Requiem Akhmatova and The Anniversary, are presented in a double bill by the GNO Alternative Stage.
Filmed at the GNO Alternative Stage at the SNFCC on 24 November 2020. Greek and English subtitles available.
Requiem Akhmatova, to a libretto by Haris Vrondos, based on the adaptation of a poem of Anne Carson by Haris Vlavianos, starts off with the life of the great Russian poetess and raises questions about the relationship between art and power. As the composer notes, “Requiem Akhmatova includes, in the form of lyrics, incidents of extermination, cold blood murder, imprisonment and exile of poets and artists who didn’t blindly succumb to the doctrine of socialist realism in art. In the same period, convicted as decadent artists, many writers, musicians and painters, mainly Jews, were killed and exiled, and saw their works being burnt or banned by the Nazi regime in Germany, Austria and Central Europe”.
The Anniversary, based on a libretto by the composer and by poet Yannis Ioannidis, features writer Yannis Beratis in a play between incidents of the Civil War and its perpetuation in the field of historical memory.
“My two chamber operas are a reflection on ideas or ideologies that defined my youth. Their subject is the explosion of violence and the suppression under the cloak of socialism in Russia (Requiem Akhmatova) and in Greece (The Anniversary or The Descent of Y. Beratis). In the second opera, we also see the decadence and the amorous desolation of a writer, situations connected with the Greek civil war. I believe that it is an effort to understand the deeper world of a creator of the ’30s. The works were not commissioned by anyone, something that unfortunately happens often in Greece. In the forty years I’ve been working I have received only three or four commissions”, notes Haris Vrondos.
Poetess Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) discusses with the work’s Narrator while he unfolds the chronicle of her life in 13 images. These images highlight, among others, the horrible Bolshevik crimes: murders, group executions, tortures, exile, bans and the censorship on the artworks of that period’s creators.
Author Yannis Beratis (1904-1968) is invited in Amfissa in 1966 as a guest speaker at the unveiling of the bust of colonel Psarros' (1893-1944). There, at the painting exhibition of the fallen warriors of regiment 5/42, he meets a young journalist who wants to interview him about his life and work. In the beginning (First Image), they discuss about the civil war, the ideologies and the killings of the fighters of Psarros’ regiment by ELAS (The Greek People's Liberation Army). Then (Second Image), they talk about their lives and try to cope with the attraction and repulsion they feel for one another, but are led to an impasse and amorous desolation.
Libretto Haris Vrondos, based on the poetry of Anna Akhmatova and the adaptation of a poem of Anne Carson by Haris Vlavianos
Anna Marissia Papalexiou
Narrator Yanni Yannissis
Libretto Haris Vrondos, Yannis Ioannidis
Beratis Yanni Yannissis
Woman Marissia Papalexiou
Conductor Nicolas Vassiliou
Director Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou
Set & costume designer Konstantinos Zamanis
Lighting designer Stella Kaltsou
Video designer Vassilis Kehagias
Yannis Kritikos (clarinet)
Manos Ventouras (horn)
Michalis Papapetrou (piano)
Dionysis Vervitsiotis (violin I)
Vanessa Athanasiou (violin II)
Yannis Athanasopoulos (viola)
Michalis Kontos (cello)
Maria Hasapi (double bass)
Video recording, TV director, editing Konstantinos Arvanitakis
“In the lovely years of vegetarianism”, sings the narrator at some point in Requiem Akhmatova. Directing a performance in our “lovely years of the pandemic” is not so much a challenge as it is an act of surpassing ourselves. And that is because the entire creative team of this performance, after a long time of forced inactivity and cancellations, threw themselves into its implementation with tremendous zeal and absolute concentration, putting aside the everyday uncertainty about whether theatres will remain open or not, or the fear that one of us may have to be quarantined or get sick. At the time of writing this note, it is still uncertain whether the performance will be played before a live or an online audience. Nevertheless, we hope that the honest expression of the two performers in the pungent and multilevel performance that –I believe– is demanded by the two works of Haris Vrondos, the truth of these characters, which we attempt to show on stage, will reach the viewers in the stalls, or break through the fourth wall of the screen and find, in any way possible, its audience.”
— Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou
Haris Vrondos Music
He was born in 1951 in Vytina, Arcadia. In 1963 he started studying guitar at the Hellenic Conservatory of Lefkas island. During the period 1974-75, he took piano lessons in Athens and attended electronic music seminars under the supervision of Günther Becker. For three years (1979-81) he was a student of J. A. Papaioannou in counterpoint.
He worked as a columnist and music critic in the daily press (Rizospastis, 1974-76), as well as for magazines (Mousiki, To Dendro, Kritiki kai Keimena, highlights). He has written six books with essays and texts on music: Diabolus in musica (Gutenberg, 1982), Low Earth (Nefeli, 1997), For Nikos Skalkottas (Nefeli, 1999), Metronome for Small and Large Arrhythmias (Nefeli, 2005), Ideal Suicides (Panas, 2013), The Diary of a Composer (Nefeli, 2018).
From 1982 to 2012 he collaborated with the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation (First and Third Programmes) for the presentation and production of music and musicological broadcasts. From 1987 to 1990 he was a member of the Board of Directors of the Union of Greek Composers. In 1989 he visited the United States as a guest of the US Government. From 1993 to 2003 he taught music history at the Municipal Conservatory of Ano Liossia, Attica.
His compositions may be divided in the following periods:
1969-80: Period of amateurism and experimentation that includes his works from Suicides (1969) to Monologue (1981).
1982-86: This period is characterised by large-scale works (First Symphony, 1982; Black Music, 1985; Second Symphony, 1986), while stylistically it belongs to the end of Romanticism with obvious elements of modernism.
1986 to present: This period is marked by the composition of his operas (The Possessed, Alcibiades, Requiem Akhmatova, The Trial, Ideal Suicides), the cantata Julian the Apostate, as well as the chamber and pocket operas on which he has focused.
Haris Vrondos has received commissions from organisations such as the Athens Concert Hall, ALEA III Contemporary Music Ensemble, University of Boston, Hellenic Choreodrama company, Union of Greek Composers, Thessaloniki European Cultural Capital 1997, Sorbonne University. He has given solo concerts with works of chamber music (Progressive Association of Hymettos, 1980; Athenaeum Conservatory, 1995; National Gallery of Greece, 1996; Benaki Museum, 2002 and 2006), while soloists and orchestras have performed his compositions in Greece and abroad. His works have been recorded for CDs.
Nicolas Vassiliou Conductor
Pianist, conductor and composer, he was born in Athens. He studied piano and theory in Athens and New York, as well as conducting at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama (RSAMD) (Athens Academy scholarship). He taught music in schools, piano and chorus direction at the National Conservatory of Athens. Director of the “Manolis Kalomiris” Children’s Chorus (1992-2000), he has collaborated, among others, with the Greek National Opera, Athens Festival, Athens Concert Hall (Megaron). Since 1994, as a vocal coach (correpetition) he participated in the music preparation of more than sixty GNO productions. He has served as GNO Chorus master (2005-11), head of the GNO Opera Studio (2012-15) and conductor of contemporary operas since 2010, including plenty of Greek premieres. He has been music consultant of the Athens Festival (2017-18). He has conducted, among others, the GNO Orchestra, Athens State Orchestra, Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation Symphony Orchestra, Athens Municipality Symphony Orchestra.
Angela-Kleopatra Saroglou Director
She studied classical singing with Varvara Gavakou (diploma, 2003) and graduated from the School of Drama (Faculty of Fine Arts) of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki. As a singer she has participated in productions of the Thessaloniki Chamber Opera. From 1993 to 2008 she has been a member of the “Macedonia” chorus conducted by Antonis Kontogeorgiou. As a director’s assistant she has cooperated with Thessaloniki Concert Hall (2001-06) and the Greek National Opera (2007-12). For the Greek National Opera, she has directed the musical monologue La Voyante by Henri Sauguet, as well as the operas L’amante di tutte by Baldassare Galuppi and Carmen by Georges Bizet (“The Suitcase Opera”). In June 2016 she directed Handel’s opera Scipione for the Handel Festival in Bad Lauchstädt, Germany. As a dramaturge she has cooperated with directors such as Arnaud Bernard in productions as Nabucco (Arena di Verona, 2017) and La fanciulla del West (Mariinsky Theatre, 2019) and Alexandros Efklidis (Le nozze di Figaro, GNO, 2019).
Konstantinos Zamanis Sets, costumes
He was born in Ioannina. He studied at the Department of Theatre Studies of the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, costume design at the Veloudakis School of Fashion Design & Styling, and stage design at the Athens School of Fine Arts and the UCL Slade School of Fine Art, with scholarships from the Onassis Foundation and the Friends of Music Society. As set and costume designer, he has worked at the National Theatre of Greece, the Αthens Festival, Amfi-Theatro, the Greek Art Theatre – Karolos Koun, the Neos Kosmos Theatre, the Aplo Theatro, etc, in collaboration with distinguished Greek artists. In 2008, he was awarded at the Greek State Film Quality Awards for his work in the film Slaves in Their Bonds by T. Lykouressis; he also received the “Young Artist” award by the Theatre and Music Critics’ Union for his set in the production of Plasticine, directed by Katerina Evangelatos at the National Theatre of Greece. In 2011, he organised and curated the Greek participation at the International Stage Setting and Architectural Design Exhibition – Prague Quadrennial, which was awarded with the Gold Medal of Theatrical Architecture.
Stella Kaltsou Lighting designer
Born in Thessaloniki, she studied theatre lighting, sets and theatre theory at the School of Drama (Faculty of Fine Arts) of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, graduating in 2009. In 2019, she won the Best Lighting Design Award of the Year at the Event Awards. She has designed the lighting for operas, dance performances and concerts at Hong Kong Opera, Handel Festival, Ópera de Oviedo, São Carlos National Theatre, Cracow Opera House, GNO, Onassis Stegi, Thessaloniki Concert Hall, Festival of the Aegean (Syros), Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. She has also designed the lighting for the event “Giannis Antetokounmpo MVP Nike Zoom Freak”. She has designed the lighting for various productions at the National Theatre, Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus, National Theatre of Northern Greece, Greek Art Theatre – Karolos Koun, Athens Concert Hall, Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Olympic Stadium, etc. She has collaborated with directors such as Arnaud Bernard, Renato Zanella, Yannis Houvardas, Daniel Pfluger, Nikos Mastorakis, Ester Ambrosino, Yannis Kakleas, Sofia Spyratou, George Kimoulis, Marianna Calbari, Konstantinos Rigos, Aris Biniaris, George Petrou, Angela Brouskou, Themelis Glynatsis, etc.
Vassilis Kehagias Video designer
Born and raised in Thessaloniki, he studied mathematics at the Aristotle University of his home town and Computer Imaging & Animation (MA) at the Guildhall University, London. He works on directing, painting and digital editing of images and videos. He has directed short and feature films, documentaries, music videos as well as television series and shows. At the same time, he has participated in concerts and theatrical productions with video projections and slideshows.
Marissia Papalexiou Anna, Woman
Greek mezzo-soprano, she studied law at the University of Athens and singing at the Athens Conservatoire, from where she graduated with honours and first prize. She completed her music studies in Paris and Düsseldorf. She was a member of the Greek National Opera Choir. She participated, as a soloist, in productions of the Athens Concert Hall, Thessaloniki Concert Hall (Die Frau ohne Schatten, Madama Butterfly, La traviata, Carmen). She participated in independent productions as Plouplou in The Daughter of the Storm, Dido in Dido and Aeneas, Hélène in La belle Hélène, as well as in concerts with works by contemporary Greek composers. She collaborated with Athens State Orchestra, Thessaloniki State Symphony Orchestra, Armonia Atenea, National Symphony Orchestra of the Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation and Thessaloniki City Symphony Orchestra. She appeared in GNO productions singing the roles of Maddalena, Suzuki, Carmen, Mercédès, Myrto, Lola, Prince Orlofsky, etc. She has collaborated with the Cottbus State Theatre (Germany). She participated in Elektra, inaugural production of the GNO at the SNFCC, in the world premiere of the opera Medea by Nikos Kypourgos, and starred in the opera Frikandela, the witch who hated carols by Alkis Baltas, based on the eponymous tale by Eugene Trivizas.
Yanni Yannissis Narrator, Beratis
Greek bass-baritone, he studied singing at the Athens Conservatory with Kiki Morfoniou and continued his studies in New York under Charles Kellis (Maria Callas scholarship, 1990). He has performed at the most famous opera houses worldwide such as Metropolitan Opera (New York), La Monnaie (Brussels), Scottish Opera, Frankfurt Opera House, etc as Banco (Macbeth), Colline (La bohème), Escamillo (Carmen), Leporello (Don Giovanni), Angelotti and Scarpia (Tosca), Capulet (Roméo et Juliette), Sharpless (Madama Butterfly) as well as next to Luciano Pavarotti, Plácido Domingo and under James Levine. At the Greek National Opera he has sung, among others, in operas like Andrea Chénier, Carmen, Fedora, Die Zauberflöte, Anna Bolena, Il trovatore, Peter Grimes, Věc Makropulos, Wozzeck and Madama Butterfly. He has received awards and distinctions in international competitions such as the Grand Prix Maria Callas (1987), MEF (1991). In addition, he has performed at the Athens Concert Hall as well as with the Athens State Orchestra, Orchestra of Colours, Music Ensembles of Hellenic Broadcasting Corporation in concerts in Greece and abroad. He has recorded extensively.