One of my favorite things to do in Athens in the summertime is to attend a concert or performance at the Herod Atticus Theater in the historical center. There is actually nothing quite like a concert under the stars, beneath the Acropolis, with the ancient walls surrounding you. We actually stumbled upon our first concert there, it was in October, a time when the theater is usually closed for the season already. But this particular year there had been an earthquake in Athens, and a last minute event was scheduled at the theater, and while taking an evening stroll we noticed a lot of activity in the plaza in front of the theater. We inquired as to what was going on and upon learning there was a benefit concert for the earthquake victims, decided to purchase tickets and head in. Of course, we were seated and the orchestra finishing its warm-up when we realized we didn’t even know who we were seeing! The evening is etched in my memory as one of the most perfect Athens nights I have ever experienced. Yannis Markopoulos, one of Greece’s finest composers, conducted his opera, The Liturgy of Orpheus. The cast included two sopranos, a narrator and two tenors. One of the tenors was not only wonderful to listen to, but equally wonderful to look at. We inquired around us as to who this talented young singer was, but none of the Greeks seated around us seemed to know. It wasn’t until several years later, walking down Vas. Sophias that I noticed a familiar face on an advertisement attached to a bus shelter. The young tenor we had been charmed by had found success in his musical path. It was Marios Fragoulis, today a very successful, well known Greek singer and performer.
Needless to say, we try to attend something at the Herodion Theater every summer, sometimes we manage two or three performances. At last year’s Athens Festival we saw the opera Carmen, (with Denise Graves, who performed the role when we saw her in Chicago at the Lyric opera) and another concert with Georgos Dalaras in a tribute to rembetika, but we missed Elvis Costello.
You don’t have to wait for tragedy to strike in Athens to have the perfect Athenian night, and while I do think that the Odeon of Herodeus Atticus Theater is the best place to experience music under the stars, the Hellenic Festival has numerous venues and a wide choice of genres to choose from. Visitors traveling outside of Athens even have options such as the Theater at Epidavros (where two years ago we saw Antigone, in Ancient Greek, in a theater that was first put into use 2500 years ago! As well as the Little Theater at Epidavros. Additional events are scheduled at 5 other venues throughout the city of Athens, including the Benaki Museum’s Pireos Annex, The Scholeion Theatre in Moschato (on Pireos Street), Pireos 260 (located in Tavros, on Pireos Street near the Athens School of Fine Art), The Athens Concert Hall (Megaro Muziki, on Vas. Sophias), Technopolis in Gazi.
This year’s lineup includes such diverse theatrical performances by the National Theatre of Great Britain doing Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days, Spyros A. Evangelatos Amphi-Theatre performing Euripides’ Phoenician and a German production of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Musical events include the National Greek Opera’s production of Puccini’s Turandot, Greece’s own, Nana Mouskouri at the Odeon of Herod Atticus, a concert by Stamatis Kraounakis, a Renée Fleming recital at the Odeon of Herod Atticus and Savina Yannatou in concert at the Little Theater at Epidavrus. The Festival includes dance performances and installation as well.
The 2008 Hellenic Festival and the Athens Festival have just announced the 2008 summer performance schedule. Tickets for all events may be ordered online three weeks prior to the performance or they may be purchased in person at the box office. For ticketing questions in Athens call +30 – 210 32 72 000 or email [email protected] .
A complete listing of events is available online, in English and in Greek, www.greekfestival.gr.