NEW YORK – The recent performance at the Opera Center in New York of excerpts from Manos Hadjidakis’ theatrical adaptation of Nikos Kazantzakis’ novel Captain Michalis is just one example of the treasures that await Greeks and non-Greeks alike when they explore the lesser-known works of the geniuses of modern Greece.
Baritone Stefanos Koroneos accompanied by pianist Areti Giovannou poured forth the love of the renowned Greek composer for his native Crete and for Kazantzakis.
Koroneos was born in Athens and moved to Milan to study music. He now lives in NYC, as does Giovannou, who is also voice teacher and coach. Hailing from Athens, she studied at the Odeon Athinon and earned Master’s degrees in piano performance and vocal accompaniment at the Mannes School of Music.
The novel was inspired by the life of Kazantzakis’ father Michalis Kazantzakis, who was Captain of a guerilla group fighting for the liberation of Crete from the Ottoman yoke.
Koroneos’ voice rang out the words and music created by two of modern Crete’s favorite sons:
Όμορφη που `ναι η Κρήτη, όμορφη.
Έι και να `μουνα αετός να την καμάρωνα
όλη, απ’ την κορφή του αγέρα.
Παντέρμη Κρήτη πόσες γενιές φωνάζεις,
ποιος σ’ ακούει;
Crete. How beautiful!
Would that I were an eagle to admire from high
all of it, from the sky’s very summit.
Solitary Crete, crying out for generations –
But who is listening?
The Sea – which surrounds and shapes but does not define Crete, whose inland heart with untold natural, archaeological, and human riches is reflected in what beats in the breast of every Cretan, streams in and out of Hadjidakis’ music.
The humble peasant – whose millennia-old roots go deep into the soil and souls of the place – also makes an appearance in Hadjidakis’ melodies and rhythms.
Many a non-Greek visitor, perhaps with jealousy, has wondered at the connection of modern Greek with the creations of ancient Hellas which for them are buried in books and locked up in museums.
They look from the outside, but the art of Cretans like Hadjidakis and Kazantzakis declares that only a view from the interior, the Cretan’s heart – which their art reveals is one and diachronic, enduring plagues, occupations, and humiliations in addition to celebrating collective glories and individual joys – can expose the secret: The foundations Greece and the island’s current reality are beneath time’s backwards horizon – no one can see them, but the Cretan feels them powerfully.
Hadjidakis and Kazantzakis are among those creators, assisted by interpreters like Koroneos and Giovannou, who demonstrate the broader, deeper and more powerful creative force that bursts the bounds of the words “poem” and “poetic.”
People’s souls can “see” the truth in the confusing world surrounding them but “darkly,” in the words of St. Paul, who walked on Crete’s soil.
A nation’s poets sing the truth of their world direct to the souls of their fellow men, but they sing also of love – and death, provoking the question of what is left to die for in these jaded and disappointing times?
Religious faith? ISIS plunges a knife into that ideal with every murder. Country? The people of Ukraine will tell you they have seen enough of nationalism in the past century.
Indeed even Love has been commercialized and made banal, but those who voluntarily exile themselves from the contemporary on Valentine’s Day will find refuge in the songs and music of these two Cretan Heroes.
The words of Kazantzakis’ characters – sing of all these things to humanity.
The soulful presentations of Koroneos, with glittering and thoughtful accompaniment by Giovannou, lifted their listeners to that higher plane that even divine Plato could barely describe with words. It requires the gifts of artists – or being in love – to be truly known.
Long live Crete.
Left to right: Areti Giovannou, Thorsteinn Arbjornsson, who performed songs from his native Iceland, and Stefanos Koroneos, shared the stage and each contributed his and her passion to the evening of fine music at the Opera Center in Manhattan.