Wednesday 1 JULY 2015 - 6:30 pm for 7 pm

2nd floor, 55 Exhibition Road, London SW7 2PN

Greek Gods, Myths and Heroes at the Opera

(Greece as the inspiration for the creation of this new art form and its composers down the ages)

Lecture by Helena Matheopoulos

Opera as an art form was invented in 16C Florence, because of Greece, by the "Camerata Fiorentina", a Society affiliated to the court of Ferdinando dei Medici and consisting of the composers Giulio Caccini, Emilio de Cavalieri, Vincenzo Galilei and Jacopo Peri, the poet Ottavio Rinuccini and Counts Bardi and Corsi. The Duke had charged them to research and discover the music used by the ancient Greeks for their dramas, which Renaissance Italy had rediscovered and embraced with unbridled passion. As there is no documentation about the nature of ancient Greek music, the Camerata failed in its quest. But in the process, it invented a new genre: melodrama or, in other words, opera.

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Apollo and Daphne

Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Apollo and Daphne

The first opera ever performed was Jacopo Peri's Dafne in 1597, and was soon followed by Euridice (his most successful), and Adone. But the composer who consolidated the new art form was undoubtedly Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), some of whose best loved works - Orfeo, Arianna, Il ritorno d'Ulisse in patria - were inspired by Greek themes. So were the works of Rameau, Gluck, Handel, Mozart, Rossini, Cherubini, Gounod, Taneyev, Richard Strauss (half of whose operas have Greek themes), Offenbach, Stravinsky, Orff, down to today's Birtwhistle and Tavener - to name but a few.

But the paradox in the relationship between Greece and opera lies in the fact that, while this wondrous new art form was being invented in its name, Greece, languishing under Ottoman rule, was blithely unaware of the fact! With one important exception: The Ionian islands, a Venetian Protectorate, that not only participated in the growth and expansion of opera, but also produced its own school of Composers whose works were premiered at La Scala and the Teatro San Carlo in Naples. And with good reason! For many of their works have little to envy from the contemporary Italian bel canto and veristic repertoire. Indeed at the concerts titled “Greece at the Opera” which I organized in Milan (with the orchestra of La Scala) and London (with the Royal Philharmonic), amidst works by the greatest international baroque, classical, romantic and contemporary composers, the most applauded arias were those by Carrer and Samaras!

This Lecture will trace the influence of Greece as an inspiration for operatic composers from the 16C to our own day and dwell in detail on the rich operatic output of the Ionian islands.

It will be illustrated with DVD and CD excerpts of famous operas from the Baroque through the Classic, Romantic periods down to our own day, as well as some wonderful excerpts from the operas of Spyros Samaras and Pavlos Carrer.

Cost: Members £16; Friends £20; Guests £22 to include a glass of wine.

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