Astoria- NY.- Photo: Dimitrios Panagos
For the 8th year in a row the Petros Patrides Cultural Center in Astoria, Queens was transformed into a grandiose opera house: 72 orchestra musicians, a 40—strong chorus plus 6 dancers and 10 exceptional soloists under the baton of Yannis Xylas created a rousing spectacle and feat for the ears that was heartily applauded by the audience.
As in previous years, this remarkable Opera and Ballet night on October 22nd, 2017 was offered free of charge by the Hellenic Orthodox Community of Saint Demetrios, Astoria in association with the Hellenic Music Foundation which also marks its 20th year anniversary and marked the opening of the week-long festivities for the name-day of the patron Saint as well as the 90th anniversary of the community. The participants in this unique and grand-scale cultural event of our community were the large Symphonic Orchestra of the Hellenic Music Foundation, Queensborough Community College’s Choirs, the Canoni Chorale, distinguished Soloists as well as Dancers from the Erin Pryor Dance Theatre and Queensborough Community College.
The very fitting program opener was the Saint Demetrios Troparion and the Finale (Hymn to Thessaloniki) from the Oratorio “Saint Demetrios” which was premiered in Thessaloniki on October 1966 and is the most well known work by the Greek composer Nikos Astrinidis. Two arias followed the choral opening: Soprano Rosa d’Imperio sang the rapturous greeting to the song contest Hall from Tannhauser (Elisabeth’s Aria “Dich teure Halle” which opens the second act); then Mezzo soprano Madison Marie McIntosh sang with brilliant coloratura Jane Seymour’s solo from the second Act of Anna Bolena by Donizetti with contributions by Bass Nicholas Krsnich as King Henry VIII, Ramon Tenefrancia as Hervey and the mixed choir. The following piece was an extended excerpt from the opera “Ernani” by Giuseppe Verdi, which included the rousing Congiura for male voices and the glorious
Finale of the third act with the full ensemble and chorus: Baritone Raemond Martin sang King Charlemagne, Tenor Nicholas Simpson was Ernani and soprano Rosa Baker was Elvira. The first half of the program closed with the glowing music of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. The selected and very well-known excerpts were sang and played with virtuosity by the chorus and orchestra respectively. A pleasant surprise for the evening was the contribution of Olympic Gold Medalist Ioannis Melissanidis in narrating the poems of the Carmina Burana excerpts. Three dancers from the Erin Pryor Dance Theater danced the opening and closing numbers – the famous “O, Fortuna’ – and Jeovanie Fernandez improvised on the “Fortuna plango vulnera” and the “Ecce gratum”. Soprano Jennifer Klauder and Baritone Raemond Martin sang “Tempus ist iocundum” together with the chorus, percussion and pianos. After the “Ave Formosissima” for chorus followed the repetition of the opening number “O, Fortuna’.
The second half of the program opened with the majestic Act 3 opening from Richard Wagner’s “Siegfried” showcasing the orchestra’s excellent brass players and featuring two of Wotan’s solos, which were sang with authority by Baritone Raemond Martin. Then Soprano Olga Xanthopoulou sang the short but demanding Richard Strauss orchestral song “Winterliebe” (Winter’s love) followed by Soprano Rosa d’Imperio and Tenor Nicholas Simpson singing the Brünnhilde – Siegfried duet from the Prologue of the opera “ Götterdämmerung” by Richard Wagner. The two operas Siegfried and Götterdämmerung are linked together as the third and fourth parts of the Tetralogy “Der Ring des Nibelungen”. The next piece was yet another one from an earlier Wagner opera: Ortrud’s Aria from Act 2 of “Lohengrin, sang by soprano Olga Bakali. The Macbeth excerpt (chorus, dance and Finale of the third Act) gave the chance for Rosa d’Imperio and Raemond Martin – as Lady Macbeth and Macbeth respectively – to join forces again in acting and singing superbly in its short but powerful and climactic duet from this Verdi opera.
The “Conga del Fuego Nuevo” by the contemporary Mexican composer Arturo Marquez provided a change of pace with its lively Latin American rhythms and melodies, danced by Alicia Raquel. The last two pieces of the program were too in the lighter vein.
The very well-known Duet “Ton kairo ekeino ton palio” from the Operetta “O Vaftistikos” by Sakellaridis, a perennial favorite of Greek audiences, was sang by Olga Xanthopoulou and Olga Bakali. The finale of the program was the Menuet and the famous Galop (danced as a Can- Can) from the satirical operetta “Orphee aux enfers” by Jacques Offenbach with the whole company, singers and dancers on stage.
After the bows Maestro Yannis Xylas addressed the audience saying that the concert celebrated 90th anniversary of the Hellenic Orthodox Community of Saint Demetrios and the 60th anniversary of the Saint Demetrios Greek-American day school. He then proceeded to thank all the musicians, the singers, dancers and Ioannis Melissanidis who made this magical and uplifting night possible. He also made an honorable mention to the sponsor and producer of the event, Mr. Nikos Andriotis, president of the Saint Demetrios School Board calling him to address the audience too.
Mr. Andriotis, amidst the crowd’s applause said: “It was in 1976 when we celebrated the 50th anniversary and I was then the young president of the community; it is still hard to believe that 40 years went by and we celebrate this year our 90th anniversary. I am convinced that our community is on the right path as far as our religion, heritage and language are concerned. The Opera and Ballet Night series- the 8th in a row this year – started a little bit reluctantly in 2010 as we weren’t sure of the reaction of the public. We entrusted Mr. Yannis Xylas, a wonderful and extraordinary all-around musician, to bring forth and arrange the necessary forces as well as conduct an Opera and Ballet Night in Astoria. Ever since the first year the audience embraced our endeavor and this ambitious undertaking became a staple among the annual events not only of the Saint Demetrios community but also of the greater Greek American community in Queens and the public awaits for it with enthusiasm every year. I am not sure if we will be able to continue this, however we will strive for the best. Just the fact that we were able to materialize it and make it a success, meaning to present something different and up-to-date unknown in the community, we owe it to your participation. I would like to thank Maestro Yannis Xylas, all the orchestra musicians, singers and dancers who give their heart and soul each year so that we enjoy a wonderful and exceptional musical evening. Kudos to Olympic Gold Medalist Ioannis Melissanidis for his inspired narration and special thanks to the Consul General of Greece Dr. Konstantinos Koutras for attending our performance”.