THE GREEK NATIONAL OPERA, ATHENS
The Greek National Opera is turning eighty this year, but is still young enough to spread its wings and travel abroad.
How did opera come to a country that had no tradition in the specific genre? It all began in the Ionian Islands. It was also popular in Patra and Syros. In Athens the first performances were given at the royal palace of Otto and Amalia, in the wooden theatre of Gaetano Meli and subsequently in the Athens Theatre at the Theatrou Square.
In 1939 the National Opera was founded as a department of the Royal Theatre and was hosted in its facilities. It officially began its operation on March 5, 1940 with Strauss’ operetta “Die Fledermaus”. During the Second World War, the National Theatre and the Opera were housed in Pallas Theatre because it had a bomb shelter. The summer performances were done in Park Theatre and the Theatre on Dragatsaniou street. In 1943, the Opera was housed in Olympia Theatre, on Akadimias street. In 1944 it parted from the Royal Theatre and became a public company, titled Greek National Opera. It was housed permanently in Olympia Theatre the same year.
In 1950, Olympia was torn down and the present form of Olympia Theatre was built, with plans by the architect Pavlos Tsolakis. During the dictatorship the three state theatres (National Theatre, National Theatre of Northern Greece, National Opera) were united under one organisation. After the dictatorship, the National Opera presented baroque operas for the first time. Several years later, when the Athens Concert Hall began to operate (1991), advanced specification halls were used for opera performances.
In 2007, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation and the Greek State signed a collaboration contract. The transfer of the National Opera to the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center was formally done on October 2017, with the premiere performance being “Elektra” by Richard Strauss. The impressive futuristic building was designed by the Italian architect Renzo Piano.
Completing 80 years of artistic existence, the National Opera is looking to the future, finalising international productions and making steps to promote its work abroad.
There’ll be collaboration with the Pars Opera Comique, the further development of the existing close relationship with the Royal Opera in London, collaborations with the operas La Monnaie in Brussels, the Danish Royal Opera (Copenhagen), Gothenburg Opera, Finnish National Opera in Helsinki, as well as the opera festivals Aix-en-Provence in France, Rossini in Pesaro, Italy and Baden-Baden in Germany. For dance, there will be collaborations with the Mark Morris Dance Group in New York and the Batsheva Dance Company in Israel.
“The current year condenses in an almost supernatural way the historic past and the ambitious future of the Greek National Opera. It’s the year that we’ll blow out the 80 candles of our organisation, while at the same moment, with youthful exuberance and unprecedented passion will take to the skies to challenge our international presence, which is becoming reality by the generous donation of 20 milion euro by the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.
It was May 5, 1940 when the first performance of Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” was the culmination of the efforts of significant luminaries of that time, led by the great Kostis Bastias, to create an Opera, at first as a department of the National Theatre at the Ziller building in Aghiou Konstantinou street. The rest is history – the organisation became autonomous, was named Greek National Opera, was housed in Olympia Theatre in Akadimias street until 2017 and since then at the new facilities here in the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
To celebrate our 80 years, we’ve created a program that promotes new creations, introduces the public to works that the Opera has not presented before, creates ambitious new productions, converses with cinema and performance art, presents succesful productions of top European operas and invites great artists to collaborate and create with us”.