NEW YORK – Ancient Greece’s tragedies inspired the later European inventors of Opera and on March 26 the descendants Sophocles witnessed “Olympic Flame,” the first Greek opera ever seen at Lincoln Center at the Bruno Walter Auditorium near the renowned Metropolitan Opera House.
The opera’s composer Panagiotis Karousos was inspired by Sophocles’ “Women of Trachis” or “Trachiniae,” the story of Heracles’ death and apotheosis. It is the second part of a trilogy which begins with the story of Prometheus giving humanity the gift of fire and concludes with the life Alexander the Great.
Produced by the Hellenic American Center of the Arts (HACA) and presented by the Federation of Hellenic Societies of Greater New York, the event was of part of the Federation’s celebration of Greek Independence that culminates in New York’s Greek Parade.
Musician and composer Billy Chrissochos produced the event and after welcoming the audience he thanked Federation president Petros Galatoulas for its assistance with sponsorships.
The opera was also the premier performance of the Hellenic American Orchestra, which was created by HACA and is conducted by Jestin Pieper.
The overture foreshadowed the opera’s plot, which reflects the course of so many lives: high hopes for love and triumph represented by lyrical and exuberant passages, and the known and unknown forces that culminate in tragedy, literally trumpeted by the brass section and accented on drums.
Tenor Demetrios John Tsinopoulos declared the strength – sometimes expressed with nobility, other times with arrogance – of Heracles. The opera opens with his inauguration of the Olympic Games and he explains the importance of the Olympic flame, which reflect “a gift from Prometheus and a symbol for the games to honor the gods,” according to the program.
Soprano Elisabeth Shoup played Heracles’ hapless wife Deianira. His son Hyllos was presented by Kofi Hayford, whose stentorian bass voice served him well as Prometheus later in the opera.
Soprano Stella Papatheodorou portrayed both Hyllos’ sister Makaria and Iole – Heracles’ new non-Olympic flame and mezzo Viktoriya Koreneva played Heracles’ mother Alkmene.
The opera’s most touching moment was the beautiful duet sung by Papatheodorou and Hayford where Makaria wishes her brother a safe journey as he sets off to find and bring Heracles home, but this is a story that does not end well for the humans.
Deianira was tricked into poisoning Heracles, leading to an excruciating death. In her grief stabs and kills herself.
Heracles’ pain is quickly forgotten, however, as Prometheus descends from Olympus and invites him to return with him to his father Zeus amid a glorious finale offered by the mortals who remained alive.
Elias Markos was the stage director and much of the team for Olympic Flame is also involved in the Greek-themed Rock Opera composed and produced by Chrissochos titled, “Porphyra- A Grecian Rock Opera: Anna and Vladimir The Love that Rocked the World” that will be performed at Off Broadway Players Theater May 13-15.
Karousos was delighted with the production and appreciated all who helped make it possible.
His father is from Kefalonia and mother is from is from Central Greece, but is the only musician among four children.
The New York production consists of highlights from the full opera and Karousos told TNH “I composed it on the occasion of the Olympic games in Brazil and we believed this was the appropriate time to present it.”
Chrissochos was the producer and organized everything. He worked closely with Tsinopoulos to gather the musicians. Chrissochos and Karousos approached The Federation, which was pleased to offer its support.
Karousos, now based in Europe after a recent move from Canada, is HACA President and runs European chapters in France and Germany, and Chrissochos is the Vice President in New York. “We promote Greek themed music. I do the rock operas here” and Karousos oversees the operas and classical music presentations,” the latter told TNH.
HACA’s endeavors have a broad cultural significance because they introduce Greek-Americans to unfamiliar genres.
Demetria Savopolis and Pandora Spelios were not big opera fans before that evening, but they enjoyed the show. “It was a wonderful event. The singers were stupendous. They sang the Greek well and were a good team. The composition was original and fit the story well” Spelios told TNH.
Savopolis, past president of the Hellenic American Educators Association/UFT said “It was innovative and charming, very dynamic and very exciting. I enjoyed it.”
Vasiliki Filiotis, President of Hellenic Paideia of America, enjoyed Olympic Flame with her sisters and friends.