Πέμπτη, 6 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

Ωδή στη Θεσσαλονίκη



…για να γιορτάσει η Θεσσαλονίκη και τα επόμενα 100 της χρόνια πάλι με την Κρατική της Ορχήστρα…

της Κατερίνας Καϊμάκη

Αισίως (;) μπήκαμε και στον Δεκέμβριο του 2012. Αυτό σημαίνει ότι σε πολύ λίγο καιρό και αυτός ο χρόνος θα είναι μια ακόμα σελίδα στην ιστορία αυτού του πλανήτη με, ομολογουμένως, πολλά και σημαντικά γεγονότα να το στιγματίζουν για μια αιωνιότητα με διφορούμενες απόψεις, που μόνο οι μεταγενέστερες γενιές θα μπορέσουν να κρίνουν με αντικειμενικότητα (;!).
Για την πόλη της Θεσσαλονίκης το 2012 υπήρξε επίσης σημαντικό από πολλές απόψεις. Η σημαντικότερη ίσως όλων, η συμπλήρωση των 100 χρόνων από την απελευθέρωσή της το 1912 και η ενσωμάτωσή της στην μητέρα Ελλάδα, τερματίζοντας μια υπερβολικά μεγάλη περίοδο κατοχής από δυνάμεις του μακρινού  παρελθόντος. Και παρόλο που οι εορτασμοί δεν κάλυψαν ολόκληρο το 2012, για πολιτικούς και οικονομικούς λόγους πάντα, οι εκδηλώσεις που έγιναν τελικά ήταν μάλλον αρκετές και αντάξιες της περίστασης.
Τι μένει λοιπόν από το να κλείσουν και αυτοί οι εορτασμοί με μία τελευταία σημαντική εκδήλωση, που μπορεί να μην εξυμνεί αμιγώς την Θεσσαλονίκη ως πόλη, αλλά με τον τρόπο της να την συνδέει με μεγάλες στιγμές της παγκόσμιας ιστορίας, αφήνοντας παράλληλα και μια παρακαταθήκη για το μέλλον; Αναφέρομαι στην συναυλία που πρόκειται να πραγματοποιηθεί την Παρασκευή 7 Δεκεμβρίου στην Αίθουσα Τελετών του ταλαιπωρημένου Αριστοτελείου Πανεπιστημίου Θεσσαλονίκης, από την επίσης ταλαιπωρημένη Κρατική Ορχήστρα Θεσσαλονίκης. Για την ταλαιπωρία του Α.Π.Θ. δεν θα μιλήσω καθόλου, καθότι δεν είμαι αρμόδια. Βέβαια, ούτε και για την Κ.Ο.Θ. είμαι αρμόδια να μιλήσω, αλλά θα το σχολιάσω λίγο το θέμα.
Πρώτα πρώτα όμως πρέπει να αναλύσω την σημασία της συγκεκριμένης συναυλίας και πώς αυτή συνδέει την πόλη μας με την παγκόσμια ιστορία. Η συναυλία αποτελείται από δύο μόνο κομμάτια: το Πρελούδιο και Φούγκα του Johann Sebastian Bach σε ενορχήστρωση Δημήτρη Μητρόπουλου και την 9η Συμφωνία του Ludwig van Beethoven. Το πρώτο κομμάτι, που θα λειτουργήσει και σαν εισαγωγή της συναυλίας ακούγεται σπάνια, λόγω της εξαιρετικά μεγάλης ορχήστρας που απαιτεί. Δεν παύει όμως να είναι ένα εντυπωσιακό μουσικό πόνημα, το οποίο αποκτάει ακόμα μεγαλύτερη αξία, αφού είναι ενός σπουδαίου Έλληνα που τολμάει να καταπιαστεί με το έργο ενός εκ των πέντε σπουδαιότερων Γερμανών συνθετών στην ιστορία της μουσικής. Βέβαια, εδώ κάποιος θα μπορούσε να καγχάσει ειρωνικά, ειδικά αν αναλογιστούμε ότι αρχικά το πρόγραμμα που είχε δημοσιοποιήσει η Κ.Ο.Θ. ανέφερε ως πρώτο κομμάτι το έργο του Αιμίλιου Ριάδη Επίκληση στην Ειρήνη. Από μια άποψη ο Ριάδης θα ήταν μια πιο κατάλληλη επιλογή για την συγκεκριμένη επέτειο, αφού και ο ίδιος ήταν ένας από τους σημαντικότερους Θεσσαλονικιούς συνθέτες. Η καλλιτεχνική διεύθυνση όμως αποφάσισε να αλλάξει το έργο – όπως άλλωστε είναι και δικαίωμά της – για άγνωστους σε εμάς λόγους και επέλεξε τελικά τον Bach/Μητρόπουλο. Εκφράζουμε την ελπίδα ότι ο Ριάδης θα ακουστεί σε μελλοντική συναυλία και γιατί όχι να μην γίνει και κάποιο πιο εκτενές αφιέρωμα στον τόσο αξιόλογο αυτό συντοπίτη μας.
Επιστρέφω όμως στο θέμα του Μητρόπουλου, το οποίο η συγκυρία το μετατρέπει σε ένα ακόμα σύμβολο, σίγουρα παρά την θέληση των δημιουργών του. Η τωρινή πολιτική κατάσταση δεν μου επιτρέπει να αγνοήσω την βαθύτατη ειρωνεία που διαπερνάει την συγκεκριμένη επιλογή. Όμως γιατί πρέπει να το δει κάποιος αρνητικά, επειδή αυτή την στιγμή η Ελλάδα και η Γερμανία δεν έχουν τις καλύτερες των σχέσεων; Θεωρητικά και εάν ο λαός μας λειτουργούσε με περισσότερη λογική και λιγότερο συναίσθημα, η άποψη που θα έπρεπε να επικρατήσει είναι η εξής: τόσο ο Bach, όσο και ο Μητρόπουλος είναι δύο ιερά τέρατα της παγκόσμιας Ιστορίας – ο καθένας στο είδος του. Δηλαδή πλέον ανήκουν στην σφαίρα της παγκόσμιας κληρονομιάς και δεν ανήκουν σε κανέναν, ούτε και πρέπει να αξιοποιούνται εθνικιστικά. Επίσης, το γεγονός ότι ο Μητρόπουλος, αντί να συνθέσει κάτι εξ ολοκλήρου δικό του – κάτι που μπορούσε να κάνει εξαιρετικά και είναι κρίμα που σταμάτησε να συνθέτει – αποφάσισε να επεξεργαστεί ένα ήδη υπάρχον έργο, δεν μειώνει σε καμία περίπτωση ούτε τον έναν συνθέτη, ούτε τον άλλον. Στον πολιτισμένο κόσμο, η επεξεργασία και αναδημιουργία ενός έργου τέχνης από κάποιον άλλον, όσο δεν είναι φτηνή αντιγραφή και παρουσιάζει και καινούργια στοιχεία, θεωρείται φόρος τιμής σε εκείνον που το σκέφτηκε πρώτος, αλλά αναδεικνύει και τις συνδυαστικές ικανότητες εκείνου που το επεξεργάστηκε. Επομένως το συγκεκριμένο κομμάτι στην συγκεκριμένη συναυλία θα πρέπει απλώς να μας θυμίσει ότι οι άνθρωποι επιτυγχάνουν πολύ περισσότερα μέσα από την σύμπραξη και πως – ειδικά στην Τέχνη – δεν υπάρχει παρθενογένεση.
Οι συμβολισμοί γίνονται ακόμα πιο έντονοι όταν αναλογίζομαι το δεύτερο έργο της βραδιάς: την πολυαγαπημένη 9η Συμφωνία του Beethoven. Θα σταθώ σε δύο μόνο, γιατί και ο χώρος είναι περιορισμένος και η υπομονή εξαντλείται εύκολα. Ο πρώτος αφορά την χρήση του ίδιου του έργου στην ιστορία της ανθρωπότητας από την πρεμιέρα του, μέχρι σήμερα. Δύο είναι τα σημαντικότερα σημεία που πρέπει να αναφέρω: με την κατάρρευση του Τείχους του Βερολίνου και την ενοποίηση των δύο Γερμανιών, επιλέχθηκε η συγκεκριμένη συμφωνία, για να γιορταστεί το γεγονός αυτό. Ένας Αμερικάνος, ο Leonard Bernstein, κλήθηκε να διευθύνει την ιστορική αυτή εκτέλεση στο Βερολίνο. Μάλιστα, για την περίσταση έγινε και μια επέμβαση στο κείμενο της Ωδής του Schiller, όπου η χορωδία αντί να εξυμνεί την Χαρά, εξυμνούσε την Ελευθερία (FreudeFrieden). Και το δεύτερο σημείο είναι η ίδια η χρήση της «Ωδής στην Χαρά» ως Ύμνου της Ευρωπαϊκής Ένωσης. Πολλοί είναι αυτοί που πιστεύουν ότι αυτή η επιλογή πρέπει να αλλάξει, ειδικά στην περίοδο που διανύει η Ε.Ε. Όμως εγώ πιστεύω ότι αυτό δεν θα ήταν σωστό, όχι γιατί θα μας πει τίποτα ο Beethoven, αλλά γιατί θα μπορούσαμε απλώς να αναλογιστούμε τα λόγια της Ωδής και να προσπαθήσουμε να τα κάνουμε πραγματικότητα. Με το να αλλάξει ο Ύμνος της Ε.Ε., δεν αλλάζει η Ένωση. Όμως με την καλύτερη μελέτη του κειμένου που περιέχει ο Ύμνος, μπορεί και να υπάρχει ελπίδα για το μέλλον…
Ο δεύτερος συμβολισμός μπορεί να είναι και λίγο παρατραβηγμένος και να θέλει πολλή φαντασία για να ερμηνευθεί, αλλά ως αιθεροβάμων πλάσμα που είμαι, τέτοιου είδους σκέψεις μου προκύπτουν αραιά και που. Αυτή λοιπόν η σκέψη συνδέει τον Beethoven με την Κ.Ο.Θ. και την ίδια την πόλη της Θεσσαλονίκης. Όλοι, λίγο πολύ, ξέρουμε ότι ο συνθέτης έχασε εντελώς την ακοή του και υπέφερε σοβαρά από αυτήν την κατάσταση, όχι μόνο γιατί η επικοινωνία του με την κοινωνία έγινε σχεδόν αδύνατη, αλλά και γιατί δεν μπορούσε να ακούσει πλέον τις ίδιες του τις συνθέσεις όταν εκτελούνταν. Η ένατη συμφωνία του, που έμελλε να είναι και η τελευταία του, συντέθηκε σε κατάσταση απόλυτης κώφωσης, γεγονός εκπληκτικό από μόνο του. Μέσα στην απόλυτη σιωπή, ο Beethoven έπλεξε τον ύμνο της αδελφοποίησης των ανθρώπων, μια τόσο αναγνωρίσιμη μελωδία που είναι πλέον σίγουρα κομμάτι του γενετικού υλικού του ανθρώπινου γένους. Το ακόμα πιο εκπληκτικό είναι πως, όσες φορές και να την ακούσουμε, ποτέ δεν χάνει την δύναμή της να συγκινεί τον ακροατή της. Αυτό από μόνο του κάνει το έργο κάτι παραπάνω από κλασικό – το μετατρέπει σε έργο θεϊκής έμπνευσης, που ξεπήδησε μέσα από βαθύτατη θλίψη και πόνο.
Πώς λοιπόν συνδέονται η Κ.Ο.Θ. και η Θεσσαλονίκη με την περίπτωση Beethoven; Απλά, εάν ποτέ η πολιτική κατάσταση της χώρας οδηγήσει την Κ.Ο.Θ. σε πτώχευση, τότε και η Θεσσαλονίκη θα γίνει ένας δεύτερος Beethoven. Θα έχει την μουσική στο κεφάλι της, αλλά δεν θα μπορεί να την ακούσει. Θα κουφαθεί και θα χάσει την ανθρωπιά της. Φήμες για τον προϋπολογισμό της ορχήστρας που εγκρίθηκε για το 2013 από το κράτος λένε ότι τα χρήματα είναι τόσο λίγα, που μπορεί να χρειαστεί να μειωθούν δραματικά οι συναυλίες της ορχήστρας ανά έτος. Και ακόμα και αν οι περισσότεροι από τους κατοίκους της Θεσσαλονίκης μπορεί να μην πηγαίνουν στις συναυλίες της ορχήστρας της πόλης τους, η έλλειψη έστω και μιας τακτικής συναυλίας της, θα γίνει σίγουρα αντιληπτή από όλους. Γιατί είναι πράγματι αλήθεια ότι όταν αυτό που έχουμε μπροστά μας το χάσουμε, τότε πραγματικά εκτιμούμε την αληθινή του αξία. Και η Κ.Ο.Θ. ανήκει σε αυτή την κατηγορία πραγμάτων συναισθηματικής και – ναι – εθνικής (αλλά όχι εθνικιστικής) αξίας.
Μια Θεσσαλονίκη χωρίς την Κρατική της Ορχήστρα θα ήταν σαν μια Θεσσαλονίκη χωρίς τον Θερμαϊκό κόλπο και το Λευκό Πύργο ή χωρίς την Καμάρα και τα κάστρα της. Θα μετατρεπόταν αυτομάτως σε μια πόλη με ανδρείκελα, τα οποία απλώς θα διεκπεραίωναν την καθημερινότητά τους με όποιο τρόπο διέθεταν και δεν θα απολάμβαναν την ζωή τους. Γιατί η Κ.Ο.Θ. είναι πολύ περισσότερα από ένα ακόμα μουσικό συγκρότημα. Είναι μια μεγάλη οικογένεια που έχει ανάγκες, για να μεγαλώσει σωστά τα παιδιά της. Και τα παιδιά αυτά δεν είναι άλλα από το κοινό της, το οποίο εδώ και πενήντα πέντε χρόνια την ακολουθεί πιστά, την χειροκροτεί και την ενθαρρύνει, ενώ ταυτόχρονα ανανεώνεται συνεχώς, φέρνοντας σπουδαία έργα της παγκόσμιας διανόησης λίγο πιο κοντά στους ανθρώπους της πόλης.
Για όλους τους παραπάνω λόγους και για να μπορέσει η Θεσσαλονίκη να γιορτάσει τα επόμενα 100 της χρόνια πάλι με την Κρατική της Ορχήστρα, ας κατακλύσουμε όλοι μας την Αίθουσα Τελετών του Α.Π.Θ., για να στηρίξουμε τους μουσικούς της πόλης μας, αλλά και να αποδείξουμε ότι η Τέχνη έχει πράγματι  την ικανότητα να ενώσει τους λαούς μέσα από την κοινή γλώσσα της Μουσικής. Και μακάρι η Μουσική αυτή να μην σωπάσει ποτέ, ώστε όλοι μας να απολαμβάνουμε τα χαρίσματά της, τα οποία τόσο απλόχερα μας δίνει, κάθε φορά που παρακολουθούμε μια συναυλία της Κρατικής Ορχήστρας Θεσσαλονίκης και όχι μόνο…
 
Θεσσαλονίκη, 4 Δεκεμβρίου 2012

Σάββατο, 1 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

T-9: Verdi vs. Puccini: The TBC factor.


(This entry was indeed written during the last days of August, however, due to unforseeable complications, I was unable to upload it the moment I wanted. So, just ignore the fact that it is September, and read on...)

It’s one of those last August days, where you know that summer is drawing to an end, simply because the heat is once again giving you its last blazing afternoons, making you wish that September comes sooner rather than later. Then again, this is Greece and whether September comes or not, it’s one and the same. The temperatures are probably going to be high even then. It’s kind of funny, considering that the people here curse the heat every day and the northerners envy us for it – it is, by the way, the only thing they envy us for right now.
Normally, on such a hot day, my brain would simply be a mess, unable to do anything else other than lying on a bed and shooting pigs out of their nests on my iPod. Yep, I too am an addict of that game… But, I had a surprisingly good week and after taking a short midday swim, I feel like expanding the list a bit. And it is also a fitting 9th spot, because it will bring the temperatures down a bit – figuratively speaking. And no, my 9th opera is not La Bohème.
Between the two “La’s”, that is La Bohème and La Traviata, I prefer the latter one (actually, there are a lot of “La’s” in opera, but these are the two most popular nowadays). *Side note to self: this seems like it’s going to end up being a comparative analysis, rather than an examination of one work.* Alright then, let the comparison begin!

BE WARNED: SPOILERS WILL FOLLOW SO EITHER CHECK OUT THE OPERAS FIRST OR READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!




Let’s start with the obvious: both operas have a heroine who dies of tuberculosis – hence the TBC in the title. What a novel, but definitely ignoble way to die. Both operas take their storylines from two books, with Dumas’ La Dame aux Camelias being more popular even today, than Murger’s Scènes de la vie de bohème. I admit having read the first one, but not the second one. And I think that’s about everything those two operas have in common. Oh, yeah, they both play out in Paris and its suburbs, but don’t expect any scenes at the Eifel Tower.
Off to the differences then: Verdi’s heroine is a high society prostitute. Puccini’s is a simple and most definitely innocent young girl who makes fake flowers for a living. Violetta likes it big and pompous, Mimì is happy with a bonnet or a muff to warm her hands. Violetta has had many lovers and rich friends, but never taken a relationship seriously; Mimì’s relationship with Rodolfo is probably her first one – alas, it was meant to be her last one as well. As far as the guys are concerned: Verdi’s Alfredo is like Puccini’s Mimì at the beginning: innocent and honest – a deadly combination. There is nothing predatory about him and he is your dream guy. He seems to have some money, although we never find out what he does for a living. Apparently he lives off his father’s money. And he is a romantic, believing in true love and love at first sight etc etc. Puccini’s Rodolfo on the other side is, well, a social misfit. He claims to be a poet, but he is clearly an unsuccessful one. And he lives in a flat with four other guys, all in the same dire financial situation as he is. Marcello the painter, Schaunard the musician and Colline the philosopher – thankfully, the last one doesn’t do a lot of on stage philosophy, otherwise this opera would be a total flop… But, because these guys are living the big Parisian life from the bottom side of society, they don’t really care about things that much. They do make a big show however on the odd chance one of them manages to bring some money to the flat, which means they get to eat and drink again. Well, there’s none of that in Verdi obviously! There is a big show, but Violetta is the one who organizes it, because she can and because that is expected of her. Also, Verdi’s version of a romance has a much better pick up line than Puccini’s. Verdi’s Alfredo sings a really catchy toast song, whereas Puccini’s Rodolfo says to Mimì she has cold hands… And she falls for that! Ugh! I guess that’s all part of the “verismo” genre, right?
And now comes the big moment where I have to explain why I don’t like La Bohème and prefer La Traviata. It has nothing to do with the music, first of all. Both operas have really beautiful music – although I can hear the musicologists chastising me for my Verdi choice, because in their minds Don Carlo and Falstaff are much better. (Having seen the Don recently, I will agree with the scientists, but, have you seen the bloody plot? Seriously! It’s nuts! I might even write something about it one day, but not today.) So, if it’s not the music that bothers me, it’s – what else – the heroine. I have a huge problem with “innocent” girls in operas. There aren’t many, mind you, and most of them simply feel off to me. Even Rossini’s Cenerentola falls into that category – no one can be that forgiving; ok, it’s a fairy tale, totally different subject! But Mimì is annoying. There is no embitterment in her character. I’m not saying that poor people are all embittered; some know how to enjoy life better than the rest of us. But no, Mimì borders on sainthood. And that is never good! Isn’t La Bohème supposed to be a verismo opera? Well, there is nothing realistic about its lead character, because she is flawless! No human being is flawless, period! The only thing that saves this particular opera for me, is – drum roll, please… – Musetta! Yes, this very sexy, but deeply emotional femme fatale is my favorite character here. At least her love affair with Marcello is a lot more passionate than Rodolfo’s and Mimì’s. And she is a true friend to Mimì, no matter the differences in character. Also another really annoying feature of this opera is Rodolfo’s cowardice. Why is he a coward? Well, he abandons Mimì not because he doesn’t love her any more, but because she is sick and he doesn’t like that. Seriously? That alone tells me that his interests in Mimì at the very beginning were entirely of a carnal nature, rather than emotional ones. Suits him well that Mimì has to die in the end, forgiving him for his stupid character, making him realize that he actually loved her. Damn those librettists, right?
So why is La Traviata better? For one, Alfredo is a very convincing young man. He falls truly in love with someone he definitely shouldn’t; he lives the perfect life for a while, at the expense of his beloved without knowing it himself, because – let’s face it – every guy is essentially a boy who seeks a mother figure and Violetta does that perfectly well; he feels truly betrayed by Violetta, not knowing that she sacrifices everything for him, including her life (the scene where he throws the money at her in front of all their old friends is a true shocker); he realizes his mistake with some help and comes begging for forgiveness, only to find his lover on her deathbed. Alfredo shows true signs of maturing during the opera and the process happens naturally, so to speak…
A second reason is Alfredo’s father, Germont Sr. He is a very ambivalent persona in the play, but there is no doubt of his noblesse and steadfastness. At first he appears as the evil guy, since his plan is to break up Violetta and Alfredo. And the reason he gives, namely that he is unable to marry off his only daughter because her brother is living together with a courtesan, sounds dubious today. But back then it was really a shocking thing for anyone to be living with someone of a promiscuous nature… And anyone daring such a thing was sure to be cut off from society and be viewed under a very examining eye. But, we know that Germont Sr. is not a bad guy, because Verdi provides his character with some of his greatest music and the music signifies a caring and loving man, as it turns out in the end. He does, albeit a bit reluctantly, become a father figure to Violetta as well, which is why it is so fitting that in the end, he should be writing her to inform her of the outcome of the duel between Alfredo and the Count-what’s-his-name.
The third reason La Traviata trumps La Bohème is Violetta. She reminds me a lot of all the witches that suffered in all the opere serie of the baroque time. Just like any of those, she indulges herself in carnal affairs, neglecting the soul. And just like them, when true love strikes, she is unprepared for it and it consumes her literally. The only difference with those witches of old is, they were, most of the time, immortals; whereas Violetta is very mortal and very aware of it. Which is also the exact reason why she spends her life in frivolity, shying away from relationships and decency. She knows she can only hurt the feelings of whomever falls in love with her, and therefore, instead of dying on the potential lover, she chooses to be “free”. Her freedom, as is the case, comes at a very high price. But she loves paying it. There are no regrets when her time comes, because in the end, she has lived it all.
The fourth reason is a biographical one. Not mine; Verdi’s. This particular story strikes close to home for the good man, for he too fell in love with an artist who was famous for her promiscuity and yet he managed to whisk her away from that kind of life and they actually had their happily ever after. Of course, society didn’t see it that way and they were shunned; mostly her, for Verdi was the rising name in music and politics. Eventually, the two married and their bond was somewhat accepted, although I think that some people never really forgave Verdi the transgression.
And finally, the last reason why La Traviata is better than La Bohème is… Violetta’s music from beginning to end! It is tough stuff to sing, since in the first act there is a lot of coloratura (the “Sempre libera” aria), then there is a lot of dramatic and begging music in the second act (the whole Germont Sr. scene) and in the end one has to be subdued enough to be convincing in the whole She’s-dying-from-tuberculosis thing (the haunting letter scene in parlando and of course the brilliant “Addio del passato”). Violetta’s music is yet another proof that this particular opera was something very personal for Verdi. He composed heavenly stuff for this heroine, making it obvious that he feels for her like no one else. Which is also why Violetta is Verdi’s most realistic figure of all. She is clearly three dimensional, she is flawed in many ways – including the fact that she is a courtesan – and she undergoes major changes throughout the play. Something I don’t see happening with Mimì’s character (in all fairness, she too has some good music composed for her, but it never really gets me very emotional, not in the least). On a weeping scale from 1 to 10, with 1 being no weeping at all and 10 drowning one hanky after another in tears, La Traviata wins with a clear 9, by contrast to La Bohème which gains a meager 5. Still, it’s better than nothing I suppose…
I do have one last comment to make about the perfect Violetta: In my humble opinion, and no, you are not permitted to argue with this particular one, the perfect Violetta would be a combination of Anja Harteros’ voice and Natalie Dessay’s acting skills and looks. Harteros’ voice is perfect for the role, because she masters coloratura and drama fantastically, and Dessay is the embodiment of Violetta: frail, yet full of life and perfectly capable of transporting you away with just one look. Should this combination ever grace the planet, then the world has my permission to end. But not before that… As for who’s the perfect Mimì… I don’t really care!               

Δευτέρα, 13 Αυγούστου 2012

T-10: Monteverdi's Ulysses.


So, the Summer Olympics of 2012 in London were just wrapped up and have taken their spot in Olympic history – whatever that may end up being – and in a couple of days my short lived vacation will end as well, marking my first ever summer without a major trip abroad (it was a minor one) and without the many leisurely days at our summer house (they were few); and I have to start thinking about organizing the remaining four months until 2012 too is officially over and I realized that – once again – I didn’t fulfill my promise to write more often. Well, I did write, actually, I just didn’t publish the results in the blog sphere because they were totally irrelevant. Trying to come up with subjects for a blog entry is actually tough work. I have no idea how the other bloggers do it. I mean, I don’t have time! And when I do, thanks to my current assignment, I am so utterly exhausted that instead of trying to conjure up the words, I simply burn my brain cells in front of the TV or read best sellers! I never read best sellers, but now I do understand why people read them. It’s a very good way to wind down from a hard days’ work. A lot easier than trying to write something decent yourself and then have the audacity to put it out there for the public to scrutinize! Well, as far as I know, I only have a handful – literally – of readers and only a couple have offered some feedback, so I am not concerned about the millions of readers who do not read me.
But, two days ago I did come up with an idea that will provide some writing material, at least for ten entries. It is an old fashioned and extremely obvious idea, but I never proclaimed I was going to revolutionize the field of blog writing, so it’s fine with me. And, to be perfectly honest with you, it worked for me once in April, so I figured: Why not do it again? And the idea is simple and bullet proof: A Top 10 list of my favorite operas! Admit it, you knew I was going to say that… Right? But it’s a great way of filling my time with something creative and at the same time the few readers who bother reading me will get to know me a bit better through this “series”. So today marks the first entry in that list – which, of course is going to be the last number, since there is no point in starting with one’s favorite thing; it kills the suspense. By the way, feel free to guess on the remaining spots of this list if you feel like it!

So, my number 10 in this list is… Claudio Monteverdi’s “Il Ritorno d’ Ulisse in patria” – or in plain English “Ulysses’ return home”. BE WARNED, THERE WILL BE SPOILERS FURTHER DOWN! It is the second of the three operas by this masters’ pen that survives as a whole and it can be found relatively often on the stages all over the world. There’s not much to be said about the plot. Basically it is an almost literal transfer of the last rhapsodies of Homer’s “Odyssey” into music and stage action – including the gods! There is one little addition that doesn’t exist in Homer’s original, which is the subplot of Melanto and Eurimaco, a rather sweet story of youthful love, which has some bearing during the first act, but then almost entirely disappears. And of course the dog is also missing… Well, I suppose that depending on the staging, a “dog” may or may not appear when Ulysses returns home, but there is no musical scene that indicates this beautiful moment of the original. Other than that there’s pretty much everything else: Ulysses’ return with the help of the Phaecians, Neptune’s anger about that, the faithful shepherd Eumete who remains true to his original master, Telemaco the son, the suitors (downsized to three so as to not overcrowd the already crowded cast) and obviously the constant Penelope, who is also the true protagonist of this story in the first place.
And then there is the Prologue… One of the main reasons I love this opera is its Prologue. In typical early opera fashion, the work begins with a “dedication”. But because this opera was performed in a public theatre in Venice the dedication takes the form of a philosophical quest into the nature of man and the powers that control it, instead of a dedication to whomever had commissioned the work. According to the Prologue these powers are Time, Fortune and Love and as it is said: man will be rendered “weak, wretched and bewildered” by them. True enough and truer even more in the case of Ulysses! Though it may not be the most complex piece of music Monteverdi composed for this particular part, or the most memorable, it is a gripping – even haunting – piece, which is why it made it into my “Music for my Funeral” list (see the appropriate blog entry for that one). Its simplicity and the repetition of Man’s stanzas between the intersections of the Powers give it a sense of finality and – curiously – optimism. You know that what they are saying is true: no matter whether one believes in coincidences or not, Time, Fortune and Love are the guiding forces behind our existence and try as we might, we cannot escape them. So, in ten minutes time one has a summation of Man’s existence and it’s so greatly put that one doesn’t necessarily feel bad about it! Why would one? When there is such great music involved in this existence!



Once the Prologue is over and done with, we get to the main part of the plot and after the first scenes at the palace, we are introduced to one of my favorite characters in the story: Neptune. The God of the Seas is such a sympathetic kind of guy! Well, obviously he is not good to Ulysses, making it virtually impossible for him to return to Ithaca (honestly, why Ulysses had to live on an island… is beyond me!), at least not without the interference of some other deity, in this case, Zeus. Who else? What happens with Neptune in this particular instance is that, because he is overruled by his older and slightly more powerful brother – the man carries a lightning bolt, for Heaven’s sake, he could easily electrocute Neptune if he wanted to – his exasperation is almost like a little child’s whose favorite toy has been forcibly taken away. And, let’s face it, Ulysses is nothing more than a toy in the hands of Neptune who enjoys seeing him suffer (well, he doesn’t always suffer, if we are to believe Homer’s account of the happenstances on Calypso’s island). But, because he is a god, we know that as soon as Ulysses is out of the way, Neptune will find himself some other poor soul to torment and because he too knows that, he “allows” Ulysses to return home. What a gracious gesture! He does take his revenge on the Phaecians though, by turning the ship that carried Ulysses to Ithaca into stone when it entered the harbor…






Anyway, Ulysses is safely and soundly stepping on his homeland, when another deity makes her appearance: Minerva. Now she is the know-it-all of the play and she does hold a lot of strings in her hands. And, as an added bonus perhaps, she is the reason Ulysses didn’t perish in the fields of Troy or somewhere on his way back home, because the virgin goddess of Wisdom takes a liking to the cunning Ulysses and has him under her direct protection. Which is also why, completely unabashedly, she presents herself to him – first as a happy shepherd boy, then in her true form – and tells him what to expect and what to do. And when this scene is over too, there is no doubt left to the audience that Ulysses will prevail! I mean, Zeus and Minerva are backing him up, how can this possibly go wrong? So, one has to ask oneself at this point: why on Earth do we keep watching the opera? We know how it ends and this isn’t even the second act! Well, we keep watching because it has some of the most heavenly music ever composed and because there is Penelope…





Penelope is, without any doubt, a universal symbol: the wife, whose husband left her with an infant in her arms, herself perhaps not any older than an adolescent, fought a war for ten years for a dubious cause, then got caught up on the way back, because he simply can’t keep his mouth shut, and yet she, braving odds and fighting suitors, constantly awaits him, still believing him to be alive, even though the evidence might point to the contrary. Why? The only reasonable explanation I can give is that Ulysses was so good in bed, she simply didn’t want anyone else! (He must’ve been good, though, just ask Calypso…) Ok, that definitely wasn’t the reason, but it is weird. Not even one lover? These were some twenty years! And Ulysses wasn’t exactly… faithful to her (Calypso, again… they even had a son together, Telegonos!). Actually, if one does a comparative analysis of the characters involved in this whole Trojan war affair, then one realizes that Penelope is the opposite to Clytemnestra, who not only murders her husband upon his return, but takes a lover to avenge him even more – of course Clytemnestra’s hatred towards Agamemnon has entirely different roots, but still, she ends up betraying him as well. Anyway, Penelope is constant, never wavers and still believes in her husband’s return. And she is wise. The sad Queen, who if it were a different opera and a different Queen, would have died singing “Thy hand Belinda…” Penelope is a striking character and is probably the only one that undergoes a major change in the entire plot of this opera: from sad, almost devastated, she ends up in utter bliss and happiness, a state she probably had forgotten what it felt like. Both her first stage appearance with her lament and her final one with Ulysses are impressive and brilliantly set to music. Her lament is plain, but with moments of deep pain and sadness, intertwined with short memories of happier days. Her last aria in the final act, a much needed release of energy and joyfulness: it is not only the Queen that rejoices in Ulysses’ return, but Nature along with her. And the final duet between the two protagonists is truly mesmerizingly beautiful one has to hear it to believe it!






Of all the other characters in this opera the one that stands out is Iro. He is the comic relief to the drama unfolding in the main storyline. He is a stutterer, as is tradition in those early operas as well. And he is the worst example of a man: base, filthy, interested only in having fun and filling his belly. He amuses the suitors and that’s why they let him stay at the palace. His devastation at the death of the suitors is almost comical; I say almost, because deep down Iro manages to produce some pity in the heart of the listener towards him, simply by being so terribly honest about himself. He is an opportunist and an untalented one too. But instead of learning from his past mistakes, he decides to be miserable. He disappears into the night and into the back of our heads. People like him lurk everywhere around us – especially here in Greece…
Obviously all is well that ends well and with this particular opera that is exactly the case. The universe is in its place when Ulysses finally holds his beloved wife in his arms again and they sing of their love for each other. The librettist has cleverly removed any references to ehem… past transgressions on the part of Ulysses (he doesn’t even mention Xena the Warrior Princess, which is a loss). Because, again, Ulysses is yet another universal symbol: not of constancy exactly, but of perseverance and balls… sorry – brains! And, probably the most important message this particular character has ever stood for is the love of one’s homeland. Otherwise, why would he have risked his life to return to Ithaca, when other… opportunities… arose…      



Πέμπτη, 7 Ιουνίου 2012

Fidelio and Greek Politics

Let me get one thing straight: I am not a fan of "Fidelio". It is my deep belief that Beethoven knew how to write symphonic music, but when it came to adding voice into the lot, he simply messed up. I mean, honestly, even the choral parts of his 9th Symphony are simply out of the reaches of the human voice! Despite the fact that it's brilliant music. The same applies to his only opera. Thank God he only composed one; I'd hate to think what would have happened had he decided to continue on that path! Curiously, Beethoven considered Handel to be the greatest composer of all times, but I guess in Beethoven's time, the only Handelian work surviving was his "Messiah", so he couldn't have had access to all the brilliant operas the "caro Sassone" produced over more than two decades. But I'm not going to talk about Handel here, although I'd love to. I'm going to talk about "Fidelio", even though I am quite reluctant to do so. But there is a need to talk about this particular work, because, from all the political operas I have in mind - from Mozart's "Mitridate, Re di Ponto" and "La clemenza di Tito", to Puccini's "Tosca" and even some Donizetti operas - "Fidelio" bears a similarity to certain events that take place in Greece these serious days. I will admit that the comparison may seem far fetched, but I do believe it is valid. Because this is a german opera, I expect the Germans reading this entry will be outraged, because most Germans these days are outraged with Greeks. And for the same reason, but on the opposite side, I expect the Greeks to also react outrageously at this entry, because it is a german opera, and most Greeks these days do not have the warmest of feelings for Germans.
I won't go into desribing the plot in great detail, but there might be some readers not familiar with it, so I have to give a summary: Fidelio - in truth Leonore, disguised as a man - works at the state prison, assisting the principal prison guard, Rocco, because she is in search of her wrongfully imprisoned husband, Florestan. In so doing, Rocco's daughter, Marzelline, falls in love with her, thus ignoring the other guard, whose name I don't recall but is quite insignificant. Also, she gains Rocco's trust and when the time comes to visit the most secret of the prisoners, Leonore convinces him to take her along. Florestan is a nobleman and a political prisoner of Don Pizarro, who is the prison's governor and an enemy to democracy. Pizarro plans on murdering Florestan, because Don Fernando, the King's minister, will pay a visit to  the prison and Pizarro does not want him to discover the wrongfully imprisoned nobleman there and orders Rocco to dig the latters grave in his underground cell. Fidelio/Leonore goes with Rocco and recognizes her husband. Then, when Pizarro is also downstairs with the lot, she exposes her true identity and attempts to kill Pizarro with a gun, but right at that moment Don Fernando arrives at the prison and Pizarro is taken in as a prisoner himself. Don Fernando announces the end of tyranny and everyone extols the importance of a faithful wife in the end, in honor of Leonore.
In my humble opinion the plot is miserable and not because it takes place in a prison. It lacks the psychological depth of other works and it goes out of its way to prove Leonore's constancy to her husband - not a bad thing in itself - and Florestan's innocence against Pizarro's dark plans - again, not a bad thing. But the plot has so many other aspects it could have worked out to make an interesting story line. In the first act there is this whole menage a trois thing with Fidelio, Marzelline and that other guy (Jaquino was the name; ghastly), not to mention the obvious homosexual attraction that goes on between Marzelline and Fidelio/Leonore. But no, the libretists focus entirely on Leonore and her struggles and this sub-plot goes under and never resurfaces again. Also, apart from the few mentions of Pizarro and his appearance at the end of the first act, he only becomes important in the second act and even there, he is not as terrifying as one would expect him to be, because the audience knows for a fact - even someone seeing this opera for the first time - that he will get his deserved punishment. And the audience knows that, because Beethoven is not a theatre man to go the extra mile and take a bold and unexpected leap. His heroes, whom he has tried to elevate and make appear as larger than life, have to come out triumphant over the villain. As they do in the end. Even the "deus ex machina" trick with Don Fernando's appearance is completely unnecessary. The only necessity it serves is that Leonore, as an unspoiled and essentially romantic heroine, must not take a life - otherwise she becomes exactly like Pizarro. And, believe it or not, this opera has the most hilarious scene in the most dramatic instance ever! It's the part were Leonore explains to everyone in the dungeon who she really is and then everyone goes like: "Mein Weib!" "Sein Weib!" "Dein Weib!" ("My wife!" "His wife!" "Your wife!") for a minute. Hilarious! Absolutely comical! And the music there is over the top too, adding to that comic effect as well... 
But enough of this particular analysis of Beethoven's weaknesses as an opera composer. I now become political once again, and I hate that. This opera, supposedly, is an opera about freedom and democracy. Beethoven was a delusional musical genius, who believed too much in people and when they failed his ideals, he simply got angry with them - and occassionally removed dedications from his works. Ideally, Beethoven could have emerged as the perfect example of the artist who influences politics for a better world, because he did believe in a better world. But his allegiances were always with the wrong people, and his music, despite being extremely popular with the audiences and the high society as well, never really succeeded in teaching people anything. Unfortunately. Which goes to prove once more that, even though we all say that Art can influence a person's way of thinking and hopefully for the better, essentially no one ever listens to the hidden messages of it and still goes around doing whatever they were doing before. It's so sad! 
So what now? Why did I want to talk about "Fidelio"? I was going to make a point, right? Well, the point is coming - I hope. And it's this: Florestan, along with all the other political prisoners Pizarro is keeping in his little prison, is the righteous Greek people. By righteous I mean those who pay their taxes, do not break the law, have a certain logic of things, do not go about killing people in the process, prefer a conversation to the destruction of public or private property and are critical of the political environment they find themselves in (and they are quite a few, despite the fact that many people think they don't exist anymore). Rocco is the compassionate, but weak ally, who expresses his sympathy for the predicament of the Greek people (do I really have to name names here?), but in the end obeys the rule of the mighty Pizarro. Pizarro is the combination of both the Greek government and the international financial elite, that despises true democracy and is interested only in personal gain, not caring about how many corpses they leave behind. And Fidelio/Leonore in this case, doesn't even exist. She represents the hope that "help will come", but that help is mostly a lie and Fidelio/Leonore is unable to stand up to the oppressors. Essentially, Fidelio is a ghost in this case. In our case, what happens is exactly what happened in Calixto Bieito's staging of "Fidelio" in Munich last year: Don Fernando arrives and is dressed up as the Joker from Batman - the most iconic representation of Chaos - and in the end, instead of rescuing Florestan, he shoots him. Don Fernando is the representation of all the supposed rescuers of Greece and all countries in crisis. Instead of liberating them, he shoots them. I guess that's also one way out of it, right?
If you expect solutions from me, you're going to have to wait for a long time. I don't have them. But the thing about me is that I never said I had them. Which is why I don't listen to people (e.g. politicians) who claim to have solutions to the problem. The only people nowadays that become politicians are those who have such huge psychological problems, they try to project them on everyone else to escape their own little and insignificant selves. A true and great politician cannot be willing to take up the reigns, because willingness corrupts. And there isn't one uncorrupted politician in the whole of the planet Earth, I'll swear on that! There is no viable solution in my eyes to the current problem the world is facing. And this is not the pessimist point of view. It is the realistic one. I am caught in the middle - those who know me just a little bit, know what I mean by middle - and I am not going to pick a side. Not anymore. Not while these people are controlling my destiny. I will not turn into Fidelio either, because I know that I will be disappointed if I do. But I will save my breath for a better and brighter day, hoping that something will change. 

Τετάρτη, 25 Απριλίου 2012

Opera Quiz No. 4

Question No. 4:

Where was "Dido and Aeneas" according to records performed for the very first time?

a. Girl's school
b. College
c. Church
d. Pub

Answer to Quiz No. 3:

Should we believe Leporello's list of his master's conquests, then the number is 2063. And the 1003 in Spain. During the opera, however, the Playboy hero fails to achieve his goal: Something always comes in between, he always gets disturbed. It's no wonder then that in the end - totally out of his wits - he even gets it going with a marble statue...
Congratulations to Ludwig van for giving the correct answer!

Τρίτη, 24 Απριλίου 2012

Music for my Funeral


Long time no write, I guess. But there is an explanation. Things in my life have been somewhat strange as of late. It is a combination of the general sociopolitical and financial position the state is in and my own personal problems, both professional and familial. I guess there isn’t a point in my discussing the first part of the above mentioned combination; anyone slightly informed understands what I mean. As for the second, well I am not entirely certain I should disclose everything that has been going on in my life. So I will only mention the one thing that stands out: Last month my grandmother died.
Before you all start sending your sincere condolences, let me just say that it was a good thing for everyone involved. At the age of 93, after having survived a couple of World Wars, the devastating effects of a divided Germany, the repercussions of being a single raising mom in the 60’s and getting a most unpleasant form of cancer during the last two years, her death was a salvation. And, luckily too, a very humane death: no hospitals, no sterile environment, no loneliness – although, everyone is alone when the time comes. Anyway, she’s gone and this passing has gotten me into thinking about things; musical things. Well, it was my mother’s question as well, the “What should we play at her funeral?” kind of thing. Coincidentally, yesterday, I discovered an article about funereal music. Apparently one can study this and make a profession out of it in Germany and there is even a 6 CD Box Set with the all time classics people choose for their funerals. Go figure…
I will admit this problem has often bothered me. I do not think about my death often, but I do have some preferences, which I am not going to analyze here, because I know for a fact that people will start debating my decisions about it. To be perfectly honest with you, I do not care what you think about Death and dying. I am at peace with the fact that it exists and have imagined the perfect way to go, but again, it’s not something I am going to discuss right now. What I will discuss is the music I would like to have at my funeral, when the time comes.
I suppose you all think that I am too young to be contemplating such morbid matters. However, there is no time like the present to take care of business and that includes organizing your passing into the ever after. At least, I believe this to be true. So here is my list of funeral “musts”. Note that the pieces do not have to performed in this particular order and despite the artists I mention for some of them, should I ever become as rich as Bill Gates or Steve Jobs and therefore be able to have this list be actually performed by actual people, then I would demand the best for this last concert – and some of the people I mention in my choices are either dead or too old now to perform, so one understands where they will be when my time comes…

  1. Richard Strauss: Vier letzte Lieder
It is the obvious choice for someone like me who adores Richard Strauss’ music. They are his “last” songs, as is implied in the title and they are about death anyway. But they’re so much more than that. They are a touch of divinity through music, and even though I am not a totally religious person, every time I hear them I can feel God’s breath running down my spine. Perfection! A dear old professor friend from Germany, who is an even greater Richard Strauss aficionado once asked me which of the four is my favorite. At the time I said that I couldn’t possibly choose one over the other. This still stands, but if I had to choose today, my affection would favor – only by a very slight margin – the “last” one: Im Abendrot. I do expect all four of them at the funeral though! The other problem arising with these songs is whose performance I’d rather have. I love Jessye Norman’s rendition – the woman was born to sing Strauss – but I also love Anja Harteros’. Because I am probably going to use Anja in other songs in this list, I suppose I have to go with Jessye.





  1. Richard Strauss: Zueignung
This is not a song about Death, at least I do not perceive it as one. But it is a song of thanks. Thanking the people who loved you and those who hated you; thanking the world for existing and God for creating it. In this case I am quite adamant: I only want Anja Harteros’ rendition. I have had the privilege of hearing – and seeing – her perform it twice so far in my life. And both times she brought tears to my eyes, simply by being so honest in her performance of the song. Because it is also a song about honesty. And though I may not be the most honest person in the world, I do admire this characteristic in other people and I do strive to emulate them in this.


  1. Richard Strauss: Morgen
The Strauss list is – seemingly – unending. I promise, not everything about this list is going to be Richard Strauss… This song should probably be performed at the very end of the whole thing, because it is a song of consolation: “And tomorrow the sun will shine again” are the words and they are beautiful. I would love the Diana Damrau version here, again because I have the fondest of memories from a Liederabend she gave. She sang this as an encore, in a July night that was tormented by a summer storm. She was 6 months pregnant and this was the culmination of the entire evening. She sang and when she finished, the entire Prinzregententheater stood perfectly still for a whole minute. No applause, no coughs, no movement, nothing. Only stillness. And in that one minute one could see her expression of gratitude and one could feel the grandest of emotions pouring forth from everyone present that night. Yet another moment of divine magic… “Und Morgen wird die Sonne wiederscheinen…”



  1. Richard Strauss: Die Zeit ist ein sonderbar Ding from Der Rosenkavalier
This is an aria about Death, even though it actually sings of the passing of Time. And it is a brilliant piece musically and poetically. I cannot begin to describe the feelings it evokes in me every time I hear it. So I will not even attempt it. Considering that probably the best Feldmarschallin ever was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, I will be perfectly satisfied with it.



  1. Richard Strauss: Hab’s mir gelobt from Der Rosenkavalier
Obviously if I could have the entire opera be performed at the funeral, I would really die a happy death. But that is slightly impossible, so this is the second thing I want from this particular work. Again this is not a terzetto about Death. Rather it is an ensemble about Love. But it is a piece so mesmerizingly beautiful, that I cannot leave it out of this list, despite the thematic inconsistency. My father is not a von Karajan fan and neither am I, but his recording of the opera with Schwarzkopf (the first one, not the one with Baltsa – for some reason that recording simply feels off) is the best, so I’ll go with that.



  1. Richard Strauss: Es gibt ein Reich from Ariadne auf Naxos
Now this is a song about Death and the afterlife. Hofmannstahl nails the descriptions about the land on the other side and Strauss’ music is so evocative (what a beautiful word, by the way), it sends goose bumps down my spine. There is one Ariadne and one only and she goes by the name of Jessye Norman, obviously… And that ends my choices from this masters’ genius (I hope).



  1. Richard Wagner: Siegfried’s Funeral March from Götterdämmerung
I never thought I’d be adding Wagner to my list, but I guess the adage “never say never” stands true again. It is an obvious choice, considering that the piece itself is a funeral march. And I suppose that a lot of people choose it for their funerals as well, so I don’t see a reason to go against the trend with this one. Why? Well, honestly, it is a haunting piece, pompous yes, but at the same time very inspired. And the first time I heard it, I did feel so moved I started crying (me, Wagner and crying is a non event, or so I thought…) Considering that I do not know which recording is the best, I will simply leave it to the discretion of the DJ (haha) to find out.



  1. Richard Wagner: In fernem Land from Lohengrin
Again not a piece about Death – and there is also the hero’s discovery in it, which is not really suitable for a funeral of someone not called Lohengrin. But it speaks of the Holy Grail and of knights and good deeds and all things medieval; the music is also beautiful, so it makes the cut. I like Jonas Kaufmann’s version, it’s also the one I heard in Munich, so why not?


  1. Richard Wagner: Mein lieber Schwan from Lohengrin
The reason why this aria also makes the list is the whole “Leb wohl” thing in the end. It is a song about lovers’ parting – ok, a rather violent parting. I will also admit that the music makes me feel something, I don’t know what. And if the previous aria is to be performed, then one has to play this as well… Again the Kaufmann version is quite adequate. And that should close the Wagner section of the program. No Isolde’s Liebestod for anyone wondering!


  1. G. F. Handel: Lascia ch’io pianga from Rinaldo
Time to go baroque for a while with a not so obvious choice. The obvious Handel choice will follow, rest assured. This aria is a masterpiece and it moves me to tears. It speaks of tears and crying, so it’s only reasonable that it does. It is dramatic, but not melodramatic – ok, it is a bit melodramatic… Nonetheless, it was, is and will be one of my most beloved pieces by the lovely Handel and so I need it in the funeral. As for whose version I prefer: well I will go with Rosemary Joshua’s version, found on the DVD from the Bavarian State Opera production. Very simple, very moving, very delicate.


  1. G. F. Handel: Verdi prati from Alcina
I would love to have the entire Alcina for the funeral, but this too is impossible. So, instead of choosing one of Alcina’s grand arias, I will choose Ruggiero’s concise and heartfelt Verdi prati, because it fits. It speaks of beauty lost and of Nature and I love it. Do me the ultimate favor and have Vesselina Kasarova’s live rendition from Munich play at the funeral, because I have truly fond – and painful – memories from that particular production…



  1. G. F. Handel: Ombra mai fu from Serse
Now comes the obvious choice for any funeral. It is not without a sense of humor that I want this piece to be performed, considering that the aria is essentially a love aria to the shade of a tree and not the least bit morbid… That’s Handel for you! As long as Kasarova doesn’t record this aria until my passing, the obvious choice would be Cecilia Bartoli’s from the Sacrificium second disc. She sings it perfectly, I have to admit.



  1. G. F. Handel: Angels, ever bright and fair from Theodora
Instead of choosing He was despised from Messiah, because that is an aria about Christ and I am not that sacrilegious, I will go with the equivalent from another dearly beloved oratorio by this composer. An aria of hope and faith, with perfect words to carry my soul to the heavens – or below, who knows (devilish smirk)? There is only one Theodora as far as I am concerned (at least, for now) and it is the late Lorraine Hunt-Lieberson. I would appreciate her version a great deal.



  1. G. F. Handel: Cara speme from Giulio Cesare
I cannot part from this world, without this aria. It is an aria about hope and maturing. With the simplest of methods and with a seriously small accompaniment, it achieves the greatest of effects. I would love to have Theodora Baka’s version, not found on any CD, but perhaps the EPT people have it on video, considering that they taped the production in 2008 from Thessaloniki. She was mesmerizingly beautiful (and I am glad I had the chance to tell her that).



  1. G. F. Handel: Io gia sento from Amadigi
Because I am not a man, it makes far more sense for me to choose Melissa’s suicide aria, instead of Bajazet’s. Also, I feel more for Melissa, than I feel for Bajazet. Not that Bajazet’s suicide aria is any less important or great, definitively not! But Melissa is, well, Melissa. And she also compensates for the fact that I cannot add any of Alcina’s arias to this list. So she is in. I am aware of only two recordings of this aria, one by Della Jones (is it?) and the other by Simone Kermes. I prefer the first one. Curiously enough, YouTube doesn't have this particular piece from this particular opera. I guess it's not as famous. Shame on them... They don't know what they're missing out here!      


  1. G. F. Handel: Overture from The Music for the Royal Fireworks
I don’t know if it is prohibited for non royal individuals to play in public occasions music that was originally performed for a King, but since orchestras around the world perform the whole piece often, I suppose it’s allowed. I only want the Overture because it is grand and majestic. Again I have no preferences as to which recording should be used, although I do like the one from the Frauenkirche in Dresden they performed in 2009. I think it was at that years’ Adventskonzert. And with this, I believe I am done with my selections from Handel’s immortal pieces, realizing that I leave so much out, but unfortunately this is no Handel marathon…


  1. J. S. Bach: The one they use in The English Patient
Good God, I do not remember which piece it is! I do know that it is Bach (not the one that Hannah plays and Kip comes at their first meeting at the convent) and it is a piano rework. The original is slightly different I think. I want the original of course, although the soundtrack version is also very esoteric and marvelous. I am truly ashamed I do not remember how it is called! Shame on me! But then again I am not the Bach encyclopedia in the family, my father is…



  1. Miklós Rózsa: Legend and Epilogue from El Cid
My funeral would not be complete without this grand piece of music. I revere Rózsa’s music deeply. The man had a knack for composing incredible film scores. This particular piece is pretty much the sum of the entire score he composed for the film – one of my all time favorites…  Dynamic, uplifting, pompous, melodic, Mediterranean… And if one were to combine it with the absolute final image of the film itself, well then, I’d be eternally grateful!



  1. Nino Rota: La Strada Suite
Do I need to comment on this particular choice? No, I do not believe I do.



  1. Dennis McCarthy: Passage Terminated from Star Trek: Deep Space 9
Since I am in the soundtrack section of the funeral, I have to add two Star Trek pieces. Let me first say that in the course of the decades that Star Trek has existed (and will continue to exist) some exceptionally great music has been composed by some truly important composers of our times. So the first piece comes from DS9 – the series I adore most of the franchise – and is from the very first episode The Emissary. It is a spiritual piece believe it or not and very well composed.


  1. Jay Chattaway: Orchestral Suite from The Inner Light from Star Trek: The Next Generation
Now this is the second Star Trek piece in the program. It is a heartbreaking piece, especially if one knows the background of the episode where it was performed. Despite all the drama of the episode, the music actually is very optimistic and even uplifting at points and I feel that it would fit perfectly in the whole performance. There are a number of other soundtracks, both from film and television that I would like to have, but that would really make the whole thing really really long, so I’m afraid that Xena: The Warrior Princess, Stardust, Babylon 5, X-Men, Braveheart, The Last of the Mohicans, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lord of the Rings and so many others will have to be left out… Too bad!


  1. Henry Mancini: You and Me from Victor/Victoria
Off to the musicals, before returning to more classical things. This little duet – perfectly sung in the movie by Julie Andrews and Robert Preston – is gorgeous! It is light headed, easy to remember and fun. And it extols the importance of friendship, be it only friendship or something more…


  1. Henry Mancini: Crazy World from Victor/Victoria
This song – and I do prefer the movie version over the theatrical version – sums up my beliefs about this world. Therefore it has to be heard. Melancholy, brilliant, unexpectedly clever; in every sense it is a masterpiece.


  1. Harvey Fierstein: I am what I am from La Cage aux Folles
Ah, yet another little gem from the musical chest. Now, admittedly, this is a song the GLBTT community idolizes. But one does not have to belong to the GLBTT community to enjoy the sparkiness and honesty of this song. I love it and I want to hear it one last time before I depart this world or any other… And that also closes up the really short selection from the world of musicals.



  1. Giuseppe Verdi: Addio del passato from La Traviata
I do not intend to become a “traviata”, no way (although, again, who knows?) But this aria is quite suitable for a funeral I think. It speaks of departing and remembering, it is a kind of prayer for the lost soul and it is brilliantly set to music. I prefer Anja Harteros’ version over all the others I have heard so far – and, believe me, I have heard a lot.



  1. Jules Massenet: Adieu notre petite table from Manon
When I heard this little aria for the first time – it was on DVD – I wept my guts out! The brilliancy of this piece, the words, the music, Dessay’s performance were out of this world. So, this is another must for me – Dessay’s version obviously – because it is suitable for a funeral. The departed says goodbye to all the little things; things that construct an everyday life with someone else. And I couldn’t, even if I wanted to, come up with a better parting gift for those objects I have associated my existence in this world.



  1. Charles Gounod: Où suis-je; Ô ma lyre immortelle from Sapho
This is another suicide aria I have no idea – still – what it says, after so many years of being acquainted with it. I just know that the music is gripping and powerful and I would very much love to have it on the program. I want the Vesselina Kasarova version, because it was she who introduced me to this aria, in a very dramatic fashion during a live performance in Athens. I’ve been indebted to her ever since for bringing this piece to my attention.



  1. Gioacchino Rossini: Sinfonia from Guglielmo Tell
Since Rossini’s music is very funny, even when it is dramatic, and since I have to have a Rossini in my funeral, I refrain from opting for an aria, because I wouldn’t know which one to choose. I love them all equally, as I love Rossini’s music as a whole. So, my ingenious idea that should make people smile when hearing it is to perform the infamous Sinfonia from this opera. It is a hilarious idea, I know, but that makes it all the most suitable for a funeral. There has to be something surreal about it…



  1. Alanis Morissette: Not as We
On a more modern note, I would choose this brilliant piece by Alanis Morissette. I found it through a TV show, I think it was House M.D. but I am not certain, it could have been something different. It is a perfect song for a funeral, just listen to the lyrics! And it is also a very beautiful melody, with relatively simple orchestration, something I really like.


  1. Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah
No, I do not want Cohen’s rendition, but the late Jeff Buckley’s one, because he was born to sing it (and then he died…). The unplugged long version of the song please, not anything electric and cut.


  1. Κώστας Γιαννίδης: Έτσι είν’ η ζωή
I stumbled upon Kostas Giannidis’ music totally by accident during a stay in Athens and I fell in love with his music. He really is worth your while, especially if you are into operetta and what we in Greece call “light” song. This song is about life and how it really is. And it is beautiful.


  1. Λένα Πλάτωνος: Ρόζα Ροζαλία ή το Ροζ Χρώμα from Εδώ Λιλιπούπολη
I grew up with this song, just like the previous generation before me. The whole Lilipoupoli program was a masterpiece, but this particular song – one of the few love songs in the whole thing – is so beautiful, it makes me weep. If I didn’t think that the list was already too long, I would choose many more songs from this cycle like Κύλα Γιαουρτοπόταμε ή το Άσπρο Χρώμα, Τώρα που πας κι εσύ στην Λιλιπούπολη, Μια βραδυά στο Πόρτο Λίλι and Αντίο Λιλιπούπολη.


  1. Μάνος Χατζιδάκις: Ο Ηθοποιός
I may never become a professional actress, but I think that the little I have acted on the stage so far, allows for this song to be heard in my funeral. It is an almost violent piece, so brilliantly performed by Dimitris Horn that rips my heart out.


  1. Henry Purcell: Fairest Isle from King Arthur
My funeral would be incomplete without Purcell’s music. And this lovely little aria, which has nothing to do with Death and desolation, has to be a part of it. I love Barbara Bonney and she has sung this aria beautifully, so I would be satisfied with her rendition.



  1. Irish Traditional: She Moved Thro’ the Fair
When I first heard this song on Ann Murray’s CD The Last Rose of Summer I was totally unprepared for it. I was moved to tears by it and its’ haunting melody, as well as the poetry involved in this song still ring in my head. Obviously I want the Ann Murray version and no other – I’ve heard quite a few, both instrumental and vocal, and none reach Murray’s perfection.



  1. W. A. Mozart: Deh, per questo from La clemenza di Tito
I have reached No. 36 and this is the first Mozart in the list. I don’t want to be misunderstood, I love Mozart and his Requiem is one of the grandest pieces ever written. However I do not believe that I will ever be worthy of this music, even in my death, so I will satisfy myself with something different. Sesto’s aria from Tito is also an aria of parting, and despite the fact that Sesto doesn’t die in the end of the opera, this aria nevertheless means something to me. If at all possible I want the Kasarova – Harnoncourt version from Salzburg, because it is the best rendition in my humble opinion.


  1. Claudio Monteverdi: Prologo from Il Ritorno d’ Ulisse in Patria
This Prologue from this lovely opera by my good friend Claudio Monteverdi is actually the sum of the reality of human existence. It speaks of the conditions and powers that affect the human life. It is transcendent as a piece of music. And since I cannot have the Combattimento di Tancredi et Clorinda because it is definitely not funeral music, I go for this. Nikolaus Harnoncourt’s version is quite good and I am a fan of his, so it is welcome.



  1. Antonio Vivaldi: Abbia respiro il cor from La Silvia
Despite this being an aria with very local themes – the poem speaks of the city and surroundings of Lazio – it has something very funereal about it. It’s the breath-like movement of the melody in the voice line that makes it appropriate. Sonia Prina sings it perfectly well on her recording of Vivaldi arias and she is one of my favorite singers too. Also with this choice I make a small homage to the “Red Priest”, one of my all time favorite composers of the baroque and one who is slowly, but surly regaining his position in the history books of music.


  1. Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov: Sheherazade “The Story of the Calendar Prince”
Rimsky-Korsakov’s symphonic poem, inspired by the brilliant stories found in the Arabian Nights – a collection of fairy tales I hold very dear – is one of those pieces that make me dream of lands far and unknown and of adventures yet to experienced. Therefore I find this choice quite suitable for a funeral, considering that Death and the afterlife is just that: an adventure. Even though I would love to have the entire Sheherazade be performed, it is with a heavy heart that I have to choose the second part only. However this second part is my favorite of the four, so my heavy heart is somewhat uplifted…


  1. Igor Stravinsky: Infernal Dance of all Kashchei’s Subjects – Lullaby – Kashchei’s Death – Disappearance of the Palace and Dissolution of Kashchei’s enchantments from The Firebird
This particular ballet is my absolute favorite from this genre. It even tops Swan Lake for me. There is something in this particular story that draws me very intensely to it. And I absolutely adore the final part where the whole thing finally reaches its culmination. Stravinsky’s music is evocative of the Inferno in one point and of Paradise in the next. And so this final part of the ballet is also the last choice in this rather long and morbid list…




Wow! Forty entries! I didn’t think they would amass to so many! If one were to perform them in one night, it would probably result in the length of a Wagnerian opera. To think that I have left out pieces and pieces; from Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to arias from all kinds of operas and oratoria… If I were to add those in the list, the audience would accompany me to the afterlife, because it would take a lifetime to listen to them all! I don’t care. Those who love me will be very happy to sit through the whole thing. And those who don’t, won’t come to the funeral in the first place, so I don’t give a d**n.
Now, I am perfectly aware that this list is only provisional and it might change in the course of the years until the inevitable arrives. I simply felt the urge to write it down because it tells something about me: that, no matter what happens in my life, when it happens, Music will always be there to form the soundtrack of that life. And this soundtrack is something I want to leave behind, for generations to come, even if I leave nothing else.

P.S.: I am not dying… Yet!