“The Greek Passion” Takes Center Stage at the Salzburg Festival

Bohuslav Martinu’s final opera, The Greek Passion, tells a story that was as explosive in the mid-20th century as it is today. The community is thrown into chaos when a group of refugees seek asylum in the village of Ricobrissi. Will the villagers reaffirm their Christian virtues, or will they indulge in selfish acts?

this August 13th to August 27thThe opera will be performed for the first time at the Salzburg Festival, directed by Simon Stone. Maxime PascalWinner of the annual Young Conductor Award at the summer event in 2014, he will conduct the opera at the Felsenreitschule, which has been staged here for the first time.

Since 1950, Martine’s works have been played occasionally at this music festival, and in 1956 his orchestral piece ‘Fresque of Piero della Francesca’ was given its world premiere. Recent editions mainly feature chamber music.

“Greek Suffering” I felt a personal sympathy for Martine, who suffered from constant homesickness in her later years. Born in 1890 in the town of Politka. Bohemia Across the Moravian border (now the Czech Republic), he matured as a composer in Paris in the 1920s and 30s. In 1941, he fled from the Nazis to the United States as a member of the Resistance. Martinu was unable to return to his native country for political reasons and he died in Switzerland in 1959.

After a long search for a tragic subject he could script himself, he discovered a novel by Nikos Kazantzakis and received approval for an adaptation of his book Christ Crucified.

The composer told the Guggenheim Foundation in 1956, “I now feel ready to take the next step. It is the most difficult, the greatest responsibility, the musical tragedy.” wrote.

Martinu worked closely with Kazantzakis on the novel, which was translated into English by Jonathan Griffin. The initial conflict, which also involved Turkish control, escalated so that only the Greeks were involved in the standoff at Lycobrissi (a town north of Athens).

Ales Brezina, director of the Bohuslav Martinu Institute, explained that the storyline itself had particular significance for the composer in the context of Cold War politics, which pits like-minded people against each other. Martinu, who obtained American citizenship, was considered a traitor in his home country.In the United States, he had to face the consequences of being of Czech origin during the anti-communist era. McCarthy era.

“Martine was moved by the theme of what people can do for their fellow countrymen in the context of a bipolar world where everything is in question,” Brezina said.

Conductor Pascal also emphasized that this dynamic is central to the work. “A group of Greeks arrived in a Greek village and started chasing them away,” he said. “This makes it clear that the angry mob is malicious towards other humans and humanity itself.”

This score has two choirs, one representing the Ricobrissi people and the other representing the refugees. This structure follows the long tradition of the musical setting of the Passion told in the Biblical Gospels, or the story of the Cross. In “Greek Passion,” the art comes to life as villagers reenact a passion play. The shepherd Manolius, who portrays Christ, is eventually murdered after challenging his fellow villagers about the veracity of his values.

Mr Pascal said Mr Kazantzakis was considered a heretic for reinterpreting the doctrines of the faith handed down to the church. “He saw a revolutionary figure in the figure of Christ, but more than anything he saw in Christian mysteries something closer to legend or myth,” he said.

Martinu left two completely different versions of the Greek Passion due to the unusual turn of events. He chose London’s Royal Opera as the venue for the premiere, but there was also interest from the Vienna State Opera, the Salzburg Festival and La Scala in Milan.

However, the opera was ultimately rejected by an external advisor to the Theater Board. Musicologist and conductor Anthony Ruiz has argued that some of the Czech composers Smetana and Janacek’s works had not yet been heard in London, and that London needed to defend contemporary British composers.

Despite the persistent support of the Royal Opera’s music director, Czech-born Rafael Kubelik, the board made no attempt to reverse the decision. Martinu believed that the war for independence was: Cyprus The subject matter may have been tainted as it affected diplomatic relations between Britain and Greece.

After Martinu’s death, he revised and enriched the score for the Zurich Opera under the direction of his friend and patron Paul Sacher. The original version was due to premiere in London, but was not performed until the Bregenz Festival in Austria in 1999.

Brezina, who reconstructed the score for that piece, likened the original version to a “dramatic fresco” or “mosaic of individual scenes and appearances burning into each other.” In contrast, the Zurich version, which will be staged in Salzburg, resembles “a kind of oratorio with great melodies and choral scenes,” he said.

Martinu’s mature work combines Bohemian and Moravian rhythms with the influence of composers such as Stravinsky and Debussy for an unprecedented synthesis of Czech and French elements. His “passion for Greece”,” But it stands out in that he carefully absorbed Greek Orthodox music and only occasionally hinted at his Czech roots. In 1955, Martinu traveled to New York to meet with Kazanzaki friends and learn about Greek folk music and liturgy.

Brezina said Martinu was keen to portray simple people while distanced himself from the “peasant music” found in the works of Janáček, the composer who was the first to introduce Moravian speech patterns and melodies to the opera stage. explained. “He found Kazanzaki not only brilliant intellect, but also a down-to-earth humanity,” he said. “The characters in the ‘Greek Passion’ are all largely uneducated. They act instinctively.”

Pascal said the forced migration of people in Greece reflected the development of Martinu’s home country of Czechoslovakia. “The oral songs and dances passed down from region to region must have spoken to him greatly,” he says.

The conductor also noted the impressionistic character of the piece. “There is incredible violence, but at the same time everything seems to be bathed in sunshine,” he said.

Mr. Pascal further reflected on the superposition of eras typical of the composer’s ultimate statement: “Post-war, Christ’s time, Greece. There is a dizzying continuity between the past and the present.

This can be seen in Mahler’s Diva, in which the 8th-century Chinese text diverges from the composer’s own text, and in Gérard Grisey’s Quatre Chant pouring Francile le Seille. ”

The “Greek Passion” is rarely performed. Along with the 1938 Surrealist masterpiece Juliet, it is considered Martine’s greatest operatic work. “This is his self-proclaimed masterpiece of stage work,” Brezina said.

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