New York. – On the occasion of the Feast Day of their patron Saint and commemorating their 87th year anniversary the Hellenic Orthodox Community of Astoria in collaboration with the Hellenic Music Foundation kick started their weeklong festivities with their 5th annual Opera and Ballet Concert, an event that is always admission-free for the public. The Petros Patrides Hall was packed with a loyal and enthusiastic audience and enjoyed a grand evening of music featuring an eclectic selection of Opera, Ballet, Operetta and Symphonic music. The music forces this year included 14 talented opera singers joined by members of the New York Festival Singers plus the Queensborough Community College Vocal Ensemble & Chorus (Chorus Master: Steven Dahlke). Queensborough Community College was also represented by students from their Dance Department (Choreographer: Aviva Geismar). Also participating were the Astoria Youth Dance Ensemble (Choreographer: Alexandra Avrami) and the Erin Pryor Dance Theater (Director & Choreographer: Erin Pryor). The full 76-member symphonic orchestra of the Hellenic Music Foundation was conducted by Maestro Yannis Xylas.
The year 2014 marks the 90 years from the death of Giacomo Puccini and the 150 years from the birth of Richard Strauss and this year’s concert presented excerpts mainly from their operatic works. Mrs. Katia Zallas, who is the president of the Hellenic Music Foundation, opened the concert with the charming rendition of Lisa’s entrance aria from the operetta “The Land of Smiles” by Franz Lehar receiving warm applause from the audience. Mrs. Olga Xanthopoulou followed with one of the most famous of Richard Strauss’ orchestral songs, Zueignung (Dedication). The next piece was the rousing 4th movement from the Caucasian Sketches Suite by Ippolitov-Ivanon choreographed by Aviva Geismar. Alexandra Loutsion then sang “Cäcilie”, an Orchestral song by Richards Strauss, Courtney Bray sang the rarely heard and difficult “Comme un éclair” from Meyerbeer’s Le Prophete and Sharin Apostolou sang “Son vergin vezzosa” from Bellini’s I Puritani.
The first part of the program closed with the Mazurka and the Coda from the Ballet Paquita by Ludwig Minkus, in a lovely rendition danced by members of the Erin Pryor Dance Theater as choreographed by Erin Pryor followed by the slowly building in tension Finale of Act I from Puccini’s Turandot with the participation of chorus and numerous offstage trumpets, trombones and saxophones from the balcony and Tami Swarzt as Liù, Adam Cromer as Calaf, Stefan Szkafarowsky as Timur and Daniel Klein, Louis Riva and Christopher Cantu as the three ministers Ping, Pang, Pong.
The second half of the program started with excerpts from the rarely heard Richard Strauss opera “Die Liebe der Danae”, scored for a big orchestra and double chorus. It included the participation of two vocal quartets, the four Queens sang by Elisa Nikoloulias as Semele, Anastasia Rege as Europa, Kirsten Kane as Alcmene, Barbara Fox as Leda and the four Kings, John Kim, Marco Mattute, Christopher Cantu and Eliam Ramos while Pollux (Danae’s father) was sang by Louis Riva and Jupiter/Zeus was sang by Daniel Klein. This relatively unknown piece was followed by probably one of the most famous choruses in all operatic literature: the chorus of Jewish slaves from Verdi’s Nabucco which was completed by the ensuing prophecy and finale of Act III in a powerful rendition by Bass Stefan Szkafarowsky.
Richard Strauss wrote ‘Der Rosenkavalier” in 1911 and remains to this day his most popular opera. The voices of Alexandra Loutsion as the Marschallin, Sharin Apostolou as Sophie and Courtney Bray as Octavian blended in perfect harmony and balance with each other and the orchestra in the concluding trio from that opera.
After the short orchestral “Vaterländische Marsch” by Johan Strauss (to set the stage for the next number) came an extended but ebullient excerpt from the second act of the opera “La Rondine” by Puccini which culminated in the wonderfully melodic quartet “Bevo al tuo fresco sorriso”. The two pairs of lovers were sang with conviction and finesse by Asako Tamura as Madga, Adam Cromer as Ruggiero, Olga Xanthopoulou as Lisette and Louis Riva as Prunier, supported by Elisa Nikoloulias, Anastasia Rege and Kirsten Kane as Georgette, Gabrielle and Lolette. The piece was staged by talented Cypriot Neofytos Stratis.
The last two pieces in the program were a surprise. Grofè initially composed the Hollywood Suite as a ballet and that is how the 5th movement of it (“production number”) was presented by the Queensborough Community College dancers and the orchestra, augmented by four additional saxophones onstage, Styliani Tartsinis, Atsushi Outsi, Eric Teichman and Nicholas Marchese. The final piece in the program was the well-known title song from the 1928 operetta “Ririka” It was sang with appropriate gusto by Julie Ziavras and later joined by Olga Xanthopoulou and Katia Zallas for the second refrain.
A short speech by the producer of the event Nikos Andriotis was delivered at the end of the concert “we thank the sponsors who made this concert possible as an admission-free offering from the community of Saint Demetrios to its parishioners but also to Hellenism. Special kudos to talented conductor Yannis Xylas who started the series of annual concerts when we all had doubts if a project of this magnitude was feasible; for the last five years he achieved it working tirelessly and with dedication.” The maestro thanked the instrumentalists, dancers and singers who participated and the concert closed with the whole ensemble singing the “Halleluja” chorus from Haendel’s Messiah as an encore.