NEW YORK – The Orpheus Foundation for Greek Music and the Arts and the Kyrenia Opera presented a concert on May 16 celebrating the 90th birthday of renowned Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.
There are numerous ways to measure success. The concert that was co-organized by Orpheus’ founder, Cypriot-American poet and lyricist Poly Kyriacou, and Kyrenia Opera founder Constantinos Yiannoudes, filled the orchestra and balcony of Manhattan’s Merkin Concert Hall.
The singing and clapping of the audience, graciously invited to join in the performance by featured singer Betty Harlafti and Yiannoudes, an operatic baritone who was also the concert’s director and conductor, reflected the spirit they generated along with the Kyrenia Opera Orchestra and Chorus.
The true mark of the evening’s success and beauty was the number of times the audience called back Harlafti – a record among the many fine concerts the community has been graced with in recent years – recent memory. There were five encores – and still no one wanted to leave.
The musicians entered the stage unobtrusively, but when quiet descended on the scene, the black-clad chorus walked in, humming a tune.
Harlafti then appeared resplendent in a red gown; for the second half she shone in white. After thanking the audience for attending, she evoked feelings of solidarity with the people of Greece, illuminating the selection of the songs which followed, saying “Mikis Theodorakis unites people. He always did, he always will.”
The program interspersed Theodorakis’ trademark songs of struggle and suffering with his more lighthearted fare, skillfully performed by the versatile Harlafti and deftly conducted by Yiannoudes.
The dramatic and lyrical elements of Harlafti’s voice – featuring soaring high notes and stirring chest tones – were brought out by the eclectic program, including the moving Asma Asmaton – Song of Songs from the Ballad of Mauthausen.
The menu for the musical feast included the men and women of the chorus singing antiphonally, and delightful duets by Harlafti and Yiannoudes,
One of its most touching moments was dedicated to Cyprus, the homeland of Yiannoudes and Kyriakou. Before the performance of “Chrysoprasino Fillo – Leaf of Gold and Green” Harlafti introduced it by intoning: “For Cyprus, I have nothing more to say than this, that we seek justice,” prompting a burst of applause.
Another of the evening’s highlights was the presentation of “They Were Lost Too Soon,” from “The Song of the Dead Brother,” about the Greek Civil War, accented by poignant references to “the lost dreams of a whole generation,” a martial beat, and the spirited strains of the chorus.
Yiannoudes marveled that last year, at the age of 89, Theodorakis added a new act to the play.
“Ti Romiosini Mi Ti Kles – Don’t Cry for Hellenism” closed the official program in dramatic fashion but the songs of the five encores left marks of joy in hearts and minds of all.
Harlafti has performed with Greece’s top musicians and since 2012 has sung with the Mikis Theodorakis Popular and Lyric Orchestra. She is currently recording an album of Theodorakis songs under his guidance.
The musicians included Mavrothi Kontanis, Benny Koonyevsky, Takis Manuel, Maxim Pakhomov, and Kostas Tsoukalas.