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Culture

World Premiere of Nestor Taylor’s ‘Eleni’ in Germany: An Opera Based On the Book by Nick Gage

February 3, 2023

When a widely known and beloved literary work meets the magic of opera, an autobiographical drama gains a musical dimension and maternal heartbreak is manifested in an audiovisual spectacle, the result becomes, if anything, highly anticipated. The opera ‘Eleni’ by Nestor Taylor, based on the homonymous work of noted Greek-American writer Nicholas Gage, saw its world premiere last December at the Theater Erfurt in Germany.
We had the pleasure to talk to the play’s creator, Nestor Taylor, a distinguished composer of Greek origin, about his artistic approach, his introduction to Mr. Gage, and the first reactions of theatrical audiences.

The National Herald: What inspired you in Mr. Gages’ ‘Eleni’ and made you decide to stage this work?

Nestor Taylor: The heartbreaking story of Eleni, the tragic end of a mother who sacrifices her own life for the sake of her children, are elements strong enough to inspire any composer to write music on this theme. And when this story is accompanied by a commission to be performed at Carnegie Hall, the offer becomes very tempting.

TNH: Tell us in a few words about your own artistic approach to this project.

NT: From the beginning it was clear to me that I would not approach it from a political point of view. After all, as in every civil war, similar arrests, torture and so called trials are unfortunately carried out by both sides. The focus of the play, therefore, could not have been other than the sacrificial love of the mother and all that she suffered to protect her family. Thus, beyond the inevitable references to the dark days of the [Axis] Occupation, the play attempts to transcend the geographical and historical boundaries of Greece, and to convey a hopeful message of love and altruism: Focusing on the sacrifice of a mother for her children who envisions a better tomorrow, the opera focuses on the timeless notion of personal catharsis in defense of justice, and on a second level, the acceptance of diversity and pluralism – ideological and political.

TNH: ‘Eleni’ was even the occasion for you to be named ‘Distinguished Composer’ at Carnegie Hall. When and how did this honor come about?

NT: My designation as Carnegie Hall’s Distinguished Composer was made by MidAmerica Productions and producer Peter Tiboris, who, to my knowledge, is one of the main managers of Carnegie Hall’s musical events. However, this partnership was cancelled due to force majeure, as the pandemic had well and truly made its appearance and all the theatres were closing one after another.

TNH: What is the nature of your collaboration and relationship with the great Greek-American writer?

NT: I met Nicholas Gage in the summer of 2018 if I’m not mistaken, and immediately there was a very good collaborative atmosphere with a lot of stories from him about his mother, which then helped me to express my musical intentions even more accurately. Of decisive importance was the visit we made to the village of Lia, where I had the opportunity to see the landscape up close, with the imposing mountains of Epirus and the ravines, the houses of the villagers, talking to some of them and seeing through their own eyes this bleak past. Along with the opera librettist, Fergus Currie, we worked for a long time with Nicholas Gage to have a dramaturgy that adapts to the demands of the music, while adapting to the flow of events.

TNH: Helen was recently performed in early December, 2022 in Erfurt, Germany to great acclaim. What were the reactions of the audience?

NT: The world premiere of the opera ‘Eleni’ took place on December 3, 2022 at the Theater Erfurt, directed by Guy Montavon, set and costumes by Eric Chevalier, and the Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus of Erfurt were conducted by the distinguished Greek conductor Myron Michaelides, who suggested the presentation of my musical work at the opera house there. The audience enthusiastically accepted the work, tuned in perfectly to the drama, and was deeply moved by the expressiveness of the performers-singers. The deep lyricism of the music combined with the lyrics from more contemporary idioms, usually in recitative style, was captured musically. It was presented and staged in a unique way, with respect for Greek traditions. Already the first articles in the local press and the most prestigious opera magazines, such as Opernglas, are rave reviews and predict that this opera will have a bright future.

TNH: How did the younger Nestor, born in Australia to Greek parents, decide to follow the path of composition? What were the stimuli that led you to this choice, and what role did your Greek heritage play in your later artistic creation?

NT: From a young age I felt that the language of music spoke to me more directly than anything else. I was composing from a young age and fortunately both my parents encouraged me to follow this path, as long as my choice was accompanied by dedication and self-sacrifice. At home we listened to classical music as well as quality Greek music, while my grandfather was a chanter with an amazing voice. When we went to the village in the summers, I could hear him singing folk and Byzantine songs even in his sleep! These unique memories still fuel my inspiration and are what made me turn to composing completely, even if this choice requires huge sacrifices.

TNH: Is there anything to announce in terms of future presentations of the work that you could share with us?

 

NT: There are already concerted efforts being made to have ‘Eleni’ travel to other opera houses around the world, but I am not in a position to make any statements yet. I hope that ‘Eleni’ – it should be noted that the libretto is in English – will reach the ends of the world, and that the Greek communities in the United States, Canada, Australia, will welcome it with an open spirit, since now, as noted by Greece’s past president Karolos Papoulias, Modern Greece is, at last, ready, after the curing of passions, after its apprenticeship in democracy and its new European qualities, to face the black pages of its history.

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