Photograph of the Old Prison (actual site)
Photograph of the Model of the Set
Model made by: Sakis Kolalas
Opera by Bohuslav Martinů
Based on the book "Christ Recrucified" by Nikos Kazantzakis
Opera of Thessaloniki (National Theatre of Northern Greece) June 10th 2005
The Opera was designed specifically to be performed in The Old Prison Courtyard of the Heptapyrgion (11th Century Byzantine Fortess) overlooking the city. Until 1986 this building was used as the town's prison. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site awaiting reconstruction.
“The snow has melted and borne away his name upon the waters”
Photography by Henk van der Geest
Scenes from the Greek Passion
15 - 15
Please click image to enlarge.
The scenic drawings show the collaborative work with the lighting designer Henk van der Geest. The staging concentrates on placing the 'larger than life' characters in the space.
Many of the scenes have only two people, and a priority was to be able to see and hear their stories very clearly.
The village of Lycovrissi is indicated by the large wall and staircase Stage Right, and the Sarakina Mountain by the wall of Stage Left. The Church is in the centre and the constructed stage becomes both the village square with the café, and the refugee's mountain camp, clarified by lighting changes.
Every dimension of the fortress is used. Top Stage Right is the Turkish governor's residence, opposite top Stage Left, the tiny white Chapel of Elijah.
Only simple hand made pieces of furniture and props are used in the scenes.
The Villagers of Lycovrissi
Pope Grigoris and Mens chorus
Ladas the Miser
Pope Grigoris and women's chorus
3 Turkish musicians
6 village girls
6 village boys
24 - 24
Old woman and children
9 - 9
Please click image to enlarge.
Showing Costumes, Furniture and Props
A Passionate Project
I visited Prague for many years. Prague is a city of music. While I was there I discovered Martinů, hearing the string quartets. "Comedy on the Bridge" and other opera works. I was attracted to Martinů's music because it is so unlike the romantic-nationalistic melodies of Dvorak and Smetana. He seemed to be reaching forward into the 20th century with a truly individual sound.
I knew the writings of Kazantzakis, albeit in translation. and loved his larger than life representation of humanity. I read "Christ Recrucified" and discovered a book full of moral indignation combined with, as Kazantzakis says "Good spirits, humour, ordinary 'human' everyday talk, laughter, jokes with plenty of salt, difficult concepts formulated with peasant simplicity". Its universality asks readers to consider what has sadly become the burning question all over the world... What would you do if a fellow citizen- a stranger asks for your help? Do you act, or do you say 'not in MY backyard' as most of us might well do. Martinů and Kazantzakis were exiles in France, when they created this 'music drama'. I felt it spoke so personally to me that I vowed that one day I would create a production where life and art would meet.
I hoped that my experience as a visual artist in the theatre could bring Kazantzakis's characters to life on the stage.
It seemed to me that I really knew these people. the villagers of the imagined Lycovrissi. I knew from my own heritage, the world of the refugee, where people living normally, suddenly find themselves 'ethnically cleansed', forced to wander. Carrying what possessions they can. Exile affects all, old and young, women and men, the sick and the feeble. We see it everyday in the papers and on television, but it is always someone else's problem until it arrives on your doorstep.
The parable Kazantzakis uses to tell this story is the Easter Passion. He shows the profound changes that occur as the chosen actors in the Passion Play become the characters they are supposed to be representing. When Manolios, the Christ figure is finally killed, he becomes a hero but, is heroism any use to the homeless? It is left to Pope Fotis (the Bringer of Light) to lead his wretched flock including starving children to a new life in yet another place.
My theatre work has been evolving from a theatre designer to a "sculptor of the stage space". I find less and less need for scenery. I am more concerned with making the most of architectural spaces, creating simple strong stagings that really tell the story. Presenting 'The Greek Passion' in this historic monument, whose stones tell stories and hold strong resonances that awaken our collective memory the universality of the Kazantzakis / Martinů creation seems to have a found a perfect home. The space speaks, and difficult concepts can be expressed with the direct simplicity embodied in the text and the music.
Kazantzakis based opera opens for the first time in Greece
Bohuslav Martinů’s work at Eptapyrgio Fortress
Half a century after Nikos Kazantzakis’s “Christ Recrucified” was published in Greece and 44 years after the world premiere in Zurich of Czech composer Bohuslav Martinů's opera based on the controversial novel, The Thessaloniki Opera presented 'The Greek Passion’ for the first time in Greece...
...Backed by the beautiful towers of the Byzantine fortress and former prison, the cast of the opera tells the story of the villagers who reveal their true selves when the refugees seeking a better life arrive. On the same day the village is staging its annual re-enactment of the crucifixion of Christ. “I could never have imagined a better combination than presenting this production in Greece, the best home for this Greek work of Art” said the production's director Pamela Howard...
Kathimerini 13/06/2005 -
The formidable director Pamela Howard…
…made clever use of every inch of the available space and applied effective solutions of moving through time and space. Thus, this first production of Martinů's Greek Passion in Greece was hailed with great success
The most successful element of her work…
… was that based on a play that evolves through many small cinematic scenes, Pamela Howard orchestrated a performance that allowed the narration to discretely follow the music and the imposing surroundings of the Eptapyrgion
“Kathimerini” Greek Edition 18/06/05
The production was sung
for the first time…
… in Greek which accounted for its resounding success. It also featured imaginative production by Pamela Howard... The opera was a once in a lifetime experience for the people of Thessaloniki
“Kathermerini” English Edition 13/06/05
...An open air staging, and found a splendid place…
…for it; the old Byzantine fortress of Heptapyrgion at the top of the city's fortification called the Kástro, which served earlier as a prison. And she adapted her staging completely to this site...
Dr Ales Brezina
Martinů Foundation Newsletter Prague September 2005
Howard used the evocative architecture of the…
…old prison to brilliant effect, helped by superb lighting by Henk van der Geest... the opera clearly struck home to its Greek audiences…
Editor-in-Chief Opera Now
p 14/15 & cover
Kazantzakis describes his characters as "people full of good spirits, humour ordinary human everyday talk, laughter, jokes with plenty of salt, difficult concepts formulated with peasant simplicity."
The images are constructed from 4 colours of plasticene; red, blue, green and yellow mixed together and thinly spread over white card the size of a CD. Using a variety of scraping tools (a fork, scalpel, pins, pen-nibs etc,) the figures are created. There is no prior drawing.