Cherubini’s Medea is a bloody tale of filicide rooted in Ancient Greek myth, the story of her vengeance against Jason (he of Golden Fleece legend) who abandoned her for another woman. Premiered in Paris in 1797, the opera didn’t meet with huge success, languishing in obscurity for decades, until a Greek soprano – the one and only Maria Callas – rescued it from the shadows. Callas was born in 1923 and it’s no accident that Medea returns to Athens in her centenary year to headline Greek National Opera’s season, a signal of the company’s lofty international ambitions. 

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Medea preparation at The Metropolitan Opera
© Jonathan Tichler | Met Opera

Callas – christened Maria Kalogeropoulos – was perhaps the 20th century’s most iconic soprano, earning fame that spread far beyond the world’s opera houses. She made her professional stage debut at the Greek National Opera in 1941. Her championing of the role of Medea in the early 1950s at the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino and La Scala helped revive the opera’s fortunes. Callas even performed it at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus in 1961. The new production in Athens next April is a real coup, for it is Sir David McVicar’s staging which is the glitzy season opener at the Metropolitan Opera in September, and is a co-production with GNO, the Canadian Opera Company and Lyric Opera of Chicago. The title role is one of the fiercest in the repertory and GNO has a suitably fearless soprano in Anna Pirozzi. Philippe Auguin, Conductor in residence of the Greek National Opera Stavros Niarchos Cultural Foundation, will be in the pit. 

The Greek season opens with a world premiere, Dimitra Trypani’s “sound performance” titled Andrei: A Requiem in Eight Scenes, a modern-day funeral liturgy for the renowned filmmaker Andrei Tarkovsky. Pantelis Boukalas’ libretto mixes German text from the Lutheran Requiem Mass with dialogue from Tarkovsky’s feature films. Actors, dancers and musicians perform as “Andrei variants” or imaginary characters drawn from his films. Trypani describes her work as “a Tarkovskian dream, since the real and unreal are interwoven through the music of the requiem that inundates the space”.

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Dionysios Sourbis (Don Giovanni) & Vassilis Kavayas (Don Ottavio) in Don Giovanni
© Andreas Simopoulos

Artistic Director Giorgos Koumendakis has built a season full of new productions, some of which have already been seen elsewhere, others which are being premiered in Athens. John Fulljames’ production of Don Giovanni, for example, is a co-production with the Göteborg Opera and the Royal Danish Opera, but starts its life in Athens. It has actually been performed there before – streamed late in 2020 during lockdown – but this will be the first time it will be given before a live audience. Fulljames employs plenty of video, setting the action in a modern hotel where the Don occupies Room 666. Greek baritone Dionysios Sourbis sings the title role. 

Krzysztof Warlikowski’s staging of The Tales of Hoffmann has already been seen at La Monnaie in 2019 and draws on film references, notably George Cukor’s A Star is Born. He turns the poet Hoffmann into a Hollywood director who is besotted with a star actress who appears in various roles (Olympia, Giulietta, Antonia, Stella). British tenor Adam Smith sings the title role in the first cast, with Nicole Chevalier a proven tour de force as Hoffmann’s multiple heroines. 

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Giorgos Koumendakis
© Andreas Simopoulos

In January, Stephen Langridge, Artistic Director at Glyndebourne Festival Opera, stages a new production of Verdi’s autumnal comedy, Falstaff. He sets the action in England in the 1930s, where, as Langridge explains, “social class was more respected than money”. 

Two directors share a new double bill in March, an intriguing pairing of Gianni Schicchi – usually seen as part of Puccini’s Il trittico – and Bartók’s only opera, Bluebeard’s Castle. Both operas premiered in the same year, 1918. Fulljames directs Schicchi, a witty comedy that is so tightly written that it’s difficult to get wrong, while Themelis Glynatsis takes on Bluebeard, which he sees as an “operatic thriller”. 

The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, an open-air Roman amphitheatre, sees a new production by Olivier Py of Madama Butterfly in June. Restored in the 1950s, the amphitheatre has been the main venue of the Athens Festival each summer and should provide a spectacular backdrop for Puccini’s tragedy. The venue also sees a revival of Verdi’s Nabucco, starring Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias. 

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Nabucco at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
© Dimitris Sakalakis

Greek National Ballet puts on three programmes during the season. Thiago Bordin’s production of Don Quixote is the full length work on offer, one of the most popular classical ballets in the repertory. “3 Rooms” is a triptych devised by ballet director Konstantinos Rigos, whose The Pedal Tone for a Child precedes Jiří Kylián’s Petit Mort and Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16. “Human Nature” is a double bill at GNO’s Alternative Stage that pairs creations by Harris Gkekas and the Albanian choreographer Gentian Doda. 

With a programme of concerts and children’s events – including a new adaptation of Offenbach’s surreal La Voyage dans la lune by no less a director than Laurent Pelly – there’s a lot to get excited about in Athens next season. 

Click here to view the Greek National Opera season in full.

This programme is made possible by a grant from the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) to enhance the GNO’s artistic outreach.

This preview was sponsored by TEMPO OMD.