Graham Vick’s first ever Cav and Pag is in Athens

Graham Vick talks about his first ever production of “Cavalleria Rusticana” and “I Pagliacci”: opening at the Herodes Atticus Theater in Athens on 1.6.2011 – further performances on 3, 4, and 5.6.2011 (BM)

Graham Vick – Photograph © Greek National Opera

After a winter season which did little to bolster its shaky reputation, Greek National Opera and its new artistic director, Myron Mihailides , must have been grateful to be able to call a press conference announcing that Graham Vick is back in town, rehearsing his very first production of verismo‘s deadly duo. This is also the first time that they will be performed as a double bill at the Herodes Atticus Theater in Athens .

Vick’s interest in these operas goes a few years: “When I was eight years old, I was intrigued by the music I heard as the bride walked down the aisle at my uncle’s wedding.” No doubt you’ve already deduced that it wasn’t the wedding march from Lohengrin – but rather the intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana. Later, at sixteen, he performed the Prologue from Pagliacci at his school – “needless to say, that was the end of my career as a singer,” he adds wryly – and now, forty years later, he is directing both operas at the Herodion, as Athenians refer to their famous open-air theater, a venue he has wanted to work in for quite some time. His enthusiasm is infectious, as he goes on to explain that he is fascinated by verismo because it is “not about style, but about substance. These operas are not realistic in the literal sense – they refer to the soul of ordinary people, and in historical terms they were the first operas which were not about kings and queens, high priests or princesses, but about people like you and me, and one of the challenges of working in this wonderful theater, which is also an overpowering monument (even a fascist monument, really, if you think about it) is making ordinary people the heart of the show in this tremendous space. Having said that, I love working in open spaces, and this one, as well as the pieces themselves, call for a large-scale production.”

Following some (de rigueur?) compliments for the “magnificent GNO chorus” (under chorus master Nikos Vassiliou ), “who make this music both spectacular and human”, we learn that the sets and costumes are by George Souglides , another artist GNO is pleased to welcome back and according to Vick they follow a simple design representing the southern Italian region of Magna Grecia, “a landscape of earth and olive trees sweeping through” this ancient theater built in Greece by the Romans. “I am also trying to use them to draw out the almost schizophrenic difference between Cavalleria, which is a poem, a rhapsody to the land, a romantically real version of peasant values, and Pagliacci, the original backstage musical! The first is about peasants, while the latter is about actors – about us, that is!, who are preparing this performance for you, and yet at the same time, we are just ordinary people, while the game Leoncavallo succeeded in playing with this opera marks the inception of musical naturalism.”

Loukas Karytinos will be conducting, and he, too, looks forward to presenting these human dramas in so monumental a venue, especially since over the years much has been made of the alleged lack of sophistication of the music and its engaging, popular melodies. “It is important to remember that until these works were composed, opera was largely inaccessible to the average person in the 19th century – and sadly, this is true of the present day as well. For many people, therefore, opera begins and ends with verismo,” he says, sounding more than inclined to convey in music the ideas expressed by Vick in his seminal article “Opera Has To Change” (read it here: ).

Bettina Mara

Read an interview with Graham Vick here:

and reviews of his previous work in Athens are  here:

Details of this production  are on GNO’s: