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A dazzling mix

Bohuslav Martinu's 'The Greek Passion'
at London's Covent Garden
reviewed by ROBERT HUGILL


Bohuslav Martinu's The Greek Passion was rejected by the Royal Opera House in the 1950s and David Pountney's production of the opera, first performed at Covent Garden in 2000, was a suitable delayed restitution. That the opera finally did make its way to the Covent Garden stage was a blessing, that the production has just been revived might be seen as a miracle given the current economic climate.

Set in a Greek village, it tells the story of a group of villagers who are chosen to perform in the annual passion play. Their assigned roles as Christ, Apostles and Mary Magdalene, begin to affect their daily lives. Further tension is brought about by the arrival of refugees from another village, which was attacked by Turks. Ultimately tension is released by the killing of the shepherd Manolios (a powerful Christopher Ventris) who played Christ.

Christopher Ventris as Manolios. Photo © 2004 Bill Cooper
Christopher Ventris as Manolios. Photo © 2004 Bill Cooper

On paper, Martinu's opera ought not to work. The plot is not a little sentimental and the music is a patchwork of disparate styles. But in Pountney's strong production and with Sir Charles Mackerras in the pit, the opera proved a theatrical triumph. The Royal Opera were performing Mackerras's own reconstruction of Martinu's original score. After the Royal Opera's initial rejection Martinu substantially re-worked the piece before its first performance, making it more conventional in construction. The first version of the opera is a strikingly original piece.

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Copyright © 29 September 2004 Robert Hugill, London UK


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