The Greek National Opera’s Publicist is called Aphrodite – isn’t that fabulous? In the last hours before I leave Athens, she sits me down in front of a video camera and subjects me to the sort of interview I’ve been doing with lots of other people over the last few years (book pending – watch this space). The interview is a substitute for the pre-show talk Stefanos Lazaridis wanted me to do, but which somehow never materialised. With this version, he says, we’ll have something in the bag when he brings out a book on the company.
As we talk, I realise just how very fulfilling this experience has been. Although the opera is a piece I know incredibly well, it yields new fruit each time, and the particular context always gives it added resonance and meaning. By linking another exploration of this piece to the discovery of this country I’d never visited before, I’ve been able to articulate so many of my hunches about what we’re trying to do with this thing called theatre: its relationship to the political space, to democracy, to feminism, to spirituality, to healing. At one point, I find myself in the surreal situation of quoting Tomson Highway’s comment that the 21st century may turn out to be the age of the returning goddess, and realise that I am talking to Aphrodite!
The first show was on Friday. It was committed, urgent and a bit tense. The audience, I thought, felt unsure – especially after the Cultural Revolution scene. They seemed to be asking whether this was really opera. The second show (I’m glad I stayed for it), was more secure, and the audience was very different. Younger, a bit less “distinguished”, and far more receptive. Around me I could feel the reality of communication. Something stirring in this home of theatre. And so, today, I can go home with a sense that it was worthwhile coming here for two months.
And what a two months. Here are a few sample stories against myself……
The lead dancer, Emilia, tells me that before I did my first session with the dancers, they were warned by the Chorus that “He will talk for hours”…..
Outside the theatre one day, one of the male dancers came running up to me. “I love the way you are so passionate about your work”, he said. “A lot of people make fun of it, but I think it is great”.
On the first night, the same young man took one look at my Chinese silk shirt from Hong Kong and remarked "If you go to the reception wearing that, the Grecian men will mock you".
Adrian Thompson gave me a very nice bottle of wine as a “Thank you”. I was stupid enough to put it in my hand luggage, and somehow forgot about it at the check in. Moron. At the scanner, they ceremoniously put it in the bin. Another little sacrifice to the lunacy of the “war on terror”.