New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The idea that Greek classics never die because humans remain to be human, is, well… classic.
GREEK, a modern operatic retelling of Sophocles’ classical tragedy Oedipus Tyrannos brought to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) December 5-9 by the Onassis Foundation in collaboration with BAM was an example of the Onassis Foundation’s new approach to bringing Greek culture closer to the wider American audience, “not only in the US, but also in Greece and around the world,” President of the Onassis Foundation, Anthony Papadimitriou, said in an interview with GN publisher, Apostolos Zoupaniotis following the performance, “We are slowly moving into a new era, because having served Greek culture for 43 years and in America 18, we have to take another step. What we did before others do. We need to see what Greek culture means today, in modern times. And by saying today, I do not mean now; I mean tomorrow, in five and ten years… I believe that we, as the Onassis Foundation, have the opportunity to play something different.”
Our feeling is that they did and it worked. Performed by Scottish Opera, the Brooklyn run of composer Mark-Anthony Turnage’s GREEK, based on the play by Steven Berkoff, saw the return of the original acclaimed cast of GREEK, with world-class British singers Susan Bullock, Allison Cook and Andrew Shore performing alongside the magnetic emerging actor Alex Otterburn as Eddy, the modern-day Oedipus.
With lushly color-blocked and stark set lighting, outsized projections (like giant newspapers) and costume detail for perfect composition—was visually stunning. And for instant shots of adrenalin, music that runs from shocking (urban angst) to beautiful—or shockingly beautiful—and back again.
Otterburn is quoted saying that differing from standard theatre in that there is no stage furniture, GREEK “leaves you with a bare, stripped-down feeling, which is how Greek tragedy was originally set.” Otterburn sees parallels with the original play and what is going on politically, socially and economically today, as well as itself. Sophocles’s Oedipus cannot escape the destiny he learned of from the Delphic Oracle. Nor can Eddy, who hears it through a fortune teller. But what is wonderful, says Otterburn, in an interview, is the idea of the circular nature of fate and destiny that in inbuilt within the opera. “Things come in cycles, for instance liberalism and tolerance turn in on themselves and breed intolerance. But we always move forward, in a sort of looping circle that goes on and on.”
Steven Berkoff has said, “… I think that more than ever this piece is relevant to us today. It is a time of overwhelming political change and division, and apart from direct comparisons from the 80s, we are also in a world of instability, whether to do with the Arab Spring or Trump. The 80s were a time of unemployment, strikes and strife and, as a direct parallel, we could hardly be more politically in turmoil. We’re reflecting these times now.’
“We saw an original adaptation of Oedipus…The project was really original, said Papadimitriou. We have seen Oedipus many times in its classic version and I think we need to see something different. Let’s see how Oedipus is playing in this era. I think the composer and the director and all those who participated in the production of the modern – and not modern – version of Oedipus did.” “…Essentially, the work was faithful to the original in that it served the myth and had all the elements of the ancient tragedy. The three Theban plays, the actors, the dance, the music, the speech, presented a different perspective that touches us deeply,” said Papadimitriou.
In his interview with Mr. Zoupaniotis, Mr. Papdimitriou explained that the Onassis Cultural Center of the Onassis Public Benefit Foundation remains at the Olympic Tower “where the Greek flag waves on 5th Avenue as always,” and that the Foundation’s attachment to Greek culture remains the same, having merely changed “the way in which we approach Greek culture, to bring it closer to a wider audience.”
“We are thinking that instead of our audience only coming to us, we will go to our audience—which are by now third and fourth generation Greek Americans.” Whereas the Onassis Cultural Center’s archaeological exhibitions touched an audience of high-level, middle-class and middle-aged people, he said, the Foundation wants to touch young people who didn’t have exposure to Byzantine history or Greek antiquity in high school or university, “Yet these are the future and we must somehow bring them to us.”
GREEK was part of the 2018 Next Wave Festival. The opera concluded the Onassis Cultural Center’s 2018 Fall Cultural series.
For 3 weeks in May 2019 the Onassis Cultural Foundation will present a set of interesting and topical events on the theme of Democracy.