The GNO achieves its goal, with planning and hard work
By Dimitris Rigopoulos
When the people at the Greek National Opera were putting together “Aida,” the company’s second production this season, everything was working against them. First of all, the timing: by the last 10 days of July most Athenian culture buffs have scattered hither and thither. Then the actual days: a weekend, with the other half of Athens heading off on holiday or to the beach. The weather: a forecast of 40C for Athens on Saturday. The crisis: many people are reluctant to spend 30 or 40 euros nowadays. The size of the Herodes Atticus Odeon: when you need to sell 4,500 tickets to get a full house, the whole deal is up in the air. The success of the GNO’s previous production, “Norma”: the Greek audience for opera is not big enough to ensure a second box office success within the space of a few weeks.
Yet, the GNO did it. Like Lazarus, the GNO, which had been left for dead just months ago, managed to rise up. And not only did it rise up, but every performance it has staged has been sold out. Not a single empty seat was to be found on the first two shows on Friday and Saturday, and by Wednesday there was no chance of even finding a ticket. What does this mean? Sales of over 13,000 tickets and a new record in the company’s history. It was the first time, according to Board President Nikos Mourkogiannis, that a GNO production made a profit, not counting sponsorships.
There is an explanation for the surprising success of “Aida” dead in the middle of a scorching summer weekend, and the fact that it is one of Giuseppe Verdi’s most popular operas is not it. What lies behind the resounding success of the production is, without doubt, the excellent promotional drive organized by the GNO: A barrage of advertising in the press and on television, numerous interviews with the board president and, of course, the wonderful idea of the sightseeing bus touring the streets of Athens with the GNO band playing the ever-popular “Triumphal March.” Ticket sales for “Aida” tripled as a result of the red bus tour and the publicity the initiative generated.
The commercial success of the GNO’s summer season is indisputably the work of Mourkogiannis. It was his idea to put on a second production in the summer (the last time the GNO did this was in 1968) and to convince the company and its staff that holidays would not be starting in early July this year, but it would be a summer of hard work that may just save the sinking ship of the GNO. But, while the debt-ridden GNO ship may have found a safe haven in the sheltered cove of the Herodes Atticus Odeon, the waters are still very choppy out in the real world. “No, we did not recover financially,” says Mourkogiannis. “Let it suffice that it was a psychological victory. We gained confidence. What the performances at the Herodes Atticus proved was that the Greek National Opera’s financial woes boil down to the fact that it doesn’t have a large theatre of its own.”
Yesterday afternoon, the main sight in Athens was the double-decker bus on which musicians of the Greek National Opera performed extract’s from the company’s latest production, Verdi’s “Aida.”
The band played, and spread the Greek National Opera’s message: “Listen to Verdi, not the news”
By Helen Bistika
Finally we Athenians were given something to smile about with the Greek National Opera’s band, which, on Tuesday afternoon toured the streets of Athens on a red double-decker sightseeing bus and played “The Triumphal March,” just as Kathimerini’s Olga Sella reported yesterday, before the news was scooped up by the television stations.
Smiling, Greek President Karolos Papoulias, who was expecting a visit by Cypriot Foreign Affairs Minister Markos Kyprianou and who is always open to new ideas, stood on the balcony of the Presidential Mansion and watched. He waved to the musicians who continued to play under the hot summer sun sporting white caps and with a bottle of cold water within reach. Just as they thirsted for water, so Athens thirsts for opera, and the Greek National Opera, despite its known difficulties, has succeeded in earning the support of the country’s enthusiasts. The initiative of the new management and Board President Nikos Mourkoyiannis has already started to bear fruit. As the band rolled past the, Athenians stood and watched, making cheerful comments as children clapped their hands – especially for the centre of the city, which has been plagued by protest rallies, it was like a rainbow on a grey sky.
As for the rest, that will come at tomorrow’s performance of “Aida,” the GNO’s second production this summer. The performance is based on the 1991 production directed by Dinos Yiannopoulos. The sets were by Yiannis Karydis, the costumes by Liza Zaimi and the choreography by Yiannis Metsis. In this production, the adaptation is by Panaghis Pagoulatos, sets and costumes are by Tota Pritsa and the choreography is by Irina Akrioti-Kolioubakina. Lukas Karytinos will be conducting the orchestra and Giorgos Aravidis the band, while the production includes the participation of the GNO Orchestra, Choir and Ballet. The choir is conducted by Nikos Vassiliou.
“Aida” will be performed on Friday, July 23, Saturday, July 24, and Wednesday, July 28, at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus at 21.00. The production is a collaboration with the City of Athens and sponsored by the OPAP state betting agency.
The title role will be performed at the premiere and on July 28 by Italian soprano Tiziana Caruso and on July 24 by Hui He. Amneris will be performed by Elena Cassian and Chariklia Mavropoulou, Radames by the American tenor Stuart Neill and his Tbilisi-born counterpart Badri Maisuradze, Amonasro by Yannis Yannissis and Dimitris Platanias, Ramfis by Dimitris Kavrakos and Christophoros Stamboglis, The King of Egypt by Dimitris Kassioumis and Tassos Apostolou, the Messenger by Dimitris Sigalos and Nikos Stefanou, and the Priestess by Artemis Bogri and Ines Zikou.
An opera in four acts, “Aida” was first performed in Athens in 1958 at the opening of the Olympia Theatre. Ticket prices are: Lower tier 100, 85, 55 and 45 euros; Upper tier 30 euros, and for children and students 15 euros.
Standing up to the crisis
The Greek National Opera responds with “Aida,” its second production of the summer season at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus
By Olga Sella
HAPPENING. Yesterday afternoon Athenians and tourists who braved the scorching sun and took a walk around the streets of the city were suddenly treated to the sound of music. On the upper level of a double-decker bus, members of the Greek National Opera band had set up shop and were playing extracts from the “Triumphal March” of Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida,” which the GNO was staging at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus.
The initiative was part of the company’s drive to promote yet another of its productions, its second this summer. For the Athenians it was a unique experience. It was a surprise even for the country’s number one citizen, Greek President Karolos Papoulias, who, together with members of his staff, stood on his balcony and waved to the GNO musicians.
The reactions of others treated to the experience were also a pleasure to behold. Some looked around perplexed, wondering where the music was coming from; others swayed to the music or danced with their tots on their shoulders. Some waved to the musicians and others smiled, welcoming the soothing balm of the music. Everyone was, without doubt, happy at the unexpected event, some even hoping that hearing the melodies of a classical opera on the streets of the city was something that could happen every day.
The Greek National Opera has survived a gauntlet of obstacles and misfortune in recent months. It is one of a long list of state-run organisations with budgetary woes that came very close to shutting down. Yet, it seems that the GNO is hitting back at the crisis by employing imaginative and low-cost tactics to promote its presence in the everyday lives of Athenians, a strategy that the new President of the Board Nikos Mourkoyiannis is banking on. Even the sceptics, those who turned their noses up at the event, experienced a change of heart by the time the musical bus had completed its tour (Academias Street, Parliament building, Maximos Mansion, Presidential Mansion, Rigillis Street, Ministry of Finance, General Accounting Office and Athens City Hall). Everyone aboard the bus – musicians, GNO staff, journalists, photographers and cameramen – emerged from the experience convinced that action and initiative are the best antidote for ailing organisations in these straightened times.
Chief conductor Lukas Karytinos suggested as much when he said that “the mechanisms of the Greek National Opera, when properly managed, have a structure and sense of continuity that should be envied by many other state organisations. Instead of looking at the GNO with pity, the state ought to be using its initiatives as an example.”
A historical opera
Giuseppe Verdi’s “Aida” was first staged in Greece in 1958 on the occasion of the inauguration of the present-day flagship of the Greek National Opera, the Olympia Theatre. This week, the GNO is presenting the opera as its second production of the season (it is the first time since 1969 that it has prepared two separate productions for one season at the open-air Roman-era theatre), and it is based on a landmark production presented by the company in 1991 and directed by Dino Yannopoulos. This year’s effort, which runs July 23, 24 and 28, is a revival of that production, adapted by director Panaghis Pagoulatos and conducted by Lukas Karytinos. And, in another record-breaking effort, this “Aida” – a historical opera that premiered at the Cairo Opera on December 24, 1871 – took just one month to put together.
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