New York.- By Vicki James Yiannias
The exceptionally brutal winter of 2014 brought on “a logistical nightmare of rehearsal cancellations and postponements that held us back a lot,” says Billy Chrissochos, about the difficulties he experienced during the development of his musical, “Porphyra, A Grecian Rock Opera. Anna and Vladimir: The love that ROCKED the world”, “a story of a part of the world that is currently in the news again. Greece, Russia and so forth.”
Then Lady Luck stepped in, or rather, the Greek American community kicked in to encourage and support young creativity, which made all difference. The light changed to green for Porphyra. “We got lucky that we were able to secure the Stathakion Cultural Center for free for our rehearsals eventually. I thank Mr. Petros Galatoulas and the board for helping us in that way,” says Chryssochos, who serves on the center’s culture committee.
The result was a dream for its creator. “Porphyra, A Grecian Rock Opera. Anna and Vladimir: The love that ROCKED the world” qualified to make its debut at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall on Sunday May 3, 2015.
GN: How did the audience receive Porphyra?
BC: The show was a success. Six hundred finicky New Yorkers as well as staff from Carnegie were amazed at what we where able to accomplish. They loved the story.
GN: How did it feel to have your work performed at Carnegie Hall?
BC: It is the most respected classical hall in the country so it is a thrilling experience. Especially when something like a Greek-inspired Rock Opera that I created and envisioned had its debut there. You can only feel humbled and in awe that people liked the production and Carnegie had to approve it for it to even get there.
GN: How did you get the idea for a “Greek-inspired Rock Opera”?
BC: I am a history buff and always loved Hellenistic and Byzantine history. There are so many grand, sweeping tales in those histories that haven’t been told to a non-academic crowd, yet the story of Anna and Vladimir is one of them.
GN: In what ways do you see it as being Greek?
BC: There is also an element of Constantine P. Cavafy in my storytelling. The passage of time on the body, yearning for home and love. For all those that are familiar with the author Penelope Delta and her historical novels “In the Heroic Age of Basil II, Emperor of Byzantium” and “Yia tin Patrida”, then you will be familiar with the backdrop of our story. It takes place in the year 988 AD in Greece’s Medieval Macedonian Dynasty. Basil II rules and will set up a new Golden Age for Greece through prosperity, peace, religions and the arts. But there are numerous problems back at home. A civil war and rebellion among the aristocracy, barbarians raiding the borders, and hostile nations ready to conquer Constantinople and its riches. It is basically telling a story of a part of the world that is currently in the news again. Greece, Russia and so forth.
GN: What is the story of the opera?
BC: The opera tells the story of Grand Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus, the first Russian Empire, and Princess Anna Porphyrogenita of Constantinople, princess of Byzantium, the cultural beacon of the Mediterranean during Western Europe’s Dark Ages.
GN: What does that story mean to you?
BC: The great thing about finding a relatable and universal story is that everyone will follow. The story of Anna and Vladimir reminds me of all the love stories that have become legendary: two people who in following their duty and destiny overcome their personal struggles and fears while finding true love. A princess and a prince, who, if no politics were involved, might never even meet, end up marrying each other in spite of all the differences, changing the course of history for two huge nations by uniting them. “The story of Anna and Vladimir, the Romeo and Juliet of the east, is being told through hard rock and metal, as well as Greek folk music.
GN: But do you include Vladimir’s 500 concubines in the love story?!
BC: Yes. That’s what the belly dancers represent! The belly dancers are a group that we worked with called Shazadi and our choreographer, Dena Stevens runs it. They did more than belly dancing though. There was some modern fusion dancing and ballet as well. It was the eye candy in a way. For the more traditional Greek dances we worked with the Greek American Folklore Society (GAFS). The ultimate goal is when we do the actual new production the dancers will do everything themselves, from belly dancing to traditional, ballet and modern dance.
GN: Please describe the music.
BC: Porphyra takes the audience on an epic musical journey from the triumphs of Alexander the Great to the glories of Byzantium. The electric guitar, in joyous harmony with bouzouki and violin, sings the lives of the dreams and ambitions of two lovers who made their own fate and altered the course of history.
GN: What music influenced you in the direction of the production?
BC: Heavy Metal, Hard Rock, traditional Greek music and Broadway musicals. Iron Maiden, Scorpions, Nightwish, Stamatis Spanoudakis, the Phantom of the Opera, Trans-Siberian Orchestra and Rock of Ages. Greek music is an important component in our music with a touch of Middle Eastern and Russian.
GN: How long did it take to develop the show?
BC: The show took about six months to develop. The music that it’s mostly based on is from my band Porphyra’s album “Faith, Struggle, Victory”, which took close to a year to complete. And the album art alone took me nine months.
GN: What did you want the album cover to get across?
BC: It had to encapsulate the feeling of the music so that it can easily serve as a guide for the Rock Opera later.
GN: What audience do you wish to reach?
BC: This musical is for everyone, Americans, as well as Greeks, Russians and Eastern Europeans.
Note: Billy Chrissochos and his band Porphyra are rallying for support and investors to take “Porphyra, A Grecian Rock Opera. Anna and Vladimir: The love that ROCKED the world” first to Off Broadway then to Broadway.
Check out the promotional fully illustrated PR booklet and video;