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Martinu: The Greek Passion
Zürich version, 1959
Jaroslav Horácek (Grigoris), René Tucek (Kostandis), Zdenek Jankovský (Yannakos) Oldrich Spisar (Panait), Vilém Pribyl (Manolios), Lubomír Havlák (Michelis), Nada Šormová (Lenio), Richard Novák (Fotis), Karel Petr (Starý muž), Eva Depoltová (Katerina), Božena Effenberková (Despinio), Martin Ružek (Ladas), Miloš Ježil (Nikolio), Bohuslav Maršík (Patriarcheas), Ivana Mixová (Old woman) & Vojtech Kocián (Andonis)
Prague Radio Symphony Orchestra, Prague Radio Chorus & Prague Radio Children’s Chorus, Libor Pešek
Recorded at the Rudolfinum, Prague, September 29 – October 1, 1981
Remastered from the original mastertapes by Miroslav Mareš, 2010
The Greek Passion became for Bohuslav Martinu (8.12. 1890 – 18. 8. 1959) an opera epilogue whose humanistic message surpasses that of all the others owing to the sheer power of the faith and emotion. Martinu liked experimenting with opera – from setting folk texts, legends and commedie dell’arte through new formations for radio and television to opera-film, opera ballet and opera-dream.
Nikos Kazantzakis’s novel Christ Recrucified captivated the composer with the fate of refugees amid an unconcerned, indifferent world. Martinu himself was a refugee. In the libretto, which he prepared on the basis of the novel’s English translation, he captured in an effective stage contraction the transformations of the characters and the reversions of the action.
Applying remarkable technique and groundbreaking compositional invention, he depicted a world of church, genuine faith and life in the Greek countryside. He interconnected the ideational and musical content with musical motifs of the Cross and compassionate love. The elaborate operatic drama The Greek Passion was scheduled to be premiered in London yet the intention ultimately did not materialise. Subsequently, London would have to wait forty-two years for the staging of the opera (London version). After the opera was rejected, Martinu did not discard the work but revised it conceptually into a new, more compendious, more operatic and musically more sublime form. Yet he did not live to see the second version performed either.
The Greek Passion was first staged almost two years after the composer’s death, in Zurich on 9 June 1961. In the autumn of 1981, the independent preparations for this gramophone recording courageously strove to bring the Czech text closer to the original deep spiritual sense of this extraordinary work for the first time.
“A charismatic 1981 performance from Czech conductor Libor Pešek” Financial Times, 14th August 2010
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Martinu: The Greek Passion
Television film of the opera by Bohuslav
Martinu based on the novel by Nikos
Kazantzakis „Christ Recrucified“
Supraphon 1981 Sung in English, subtitles: Czech, German, French
“The vocal performances are without exception magnificent: John Mitchinson as Manolios and Helen Field as Katerina, respectively Christ and Mary Magdalen, deliver near definitive readings of their roles. The transfer to a realistic open air set with actors taking the vocal roles is not particularly successful.” BBC Music Magazine, January 2008 ***
“The story of Martinu's penultimate opera begins with a priest allotting roles in the local Passion play to various congregation members.
When a group of refugees arrive begging land (their village having been sacked by the Turks) the would-be actors begin to assume the roles of their characters. Thus, after the priest rejects the refugees on the pretext that they carry cholera, Manolios, assigned to play Christ, directs them towards Mount Sarakina where there is room to spare, while the pedlar Yannakos, playing Peter, repents of a scheme to deprive the refugees of their valuables in exchange for essentials.
Panait, allotted the role of Judas, is incensed by the change of heart of Katerina, playing Mary Magdalene, who is drawn into a close spiritual bond with Manolios, who rejects his fiancée, Lenio, who in turn becomes engaged to another. In the end, Manolios's identification with Christ and sympathy for the plight of the refugees becomes too much for the priest, who excommunicates him. In a confrontation outside the church, Manolios is killed by Panait and the Passion play ended.
Supraphon's film is not of a stage or even studio performance, but was made for Czech Television in 1999 as a kind of outside broadcast, set around a real stone-built village and church.
The recording is that made in 1981 in Brno using the local orchestra and Czech choruses by Sir Charles Mackerras with soloists from Welsh National Opera. The live actors, for the most part Czechs, mouth the English text very well, though differences in mime technique are at times striking.
The outdoor setting works remarkably well, centred on the village square, the church, various cottages and the hillside where the refugees attempt to eke out a new home. The recording still sounds sumptuous, the elision of certain segments has been done expertly and for those unfamiliar with Martinu's radiant score, this film – ending with the iconic image of the dead Manolios on the church steps, should prove a compelling and moving experience.” Gramophone Classical Music Guide, 2010
“Supraphon's film… was made for Czech Television… as a kind of outside broadcast, set around a real stone-built village and church. The recording still sounds sumptuous, the elision of certain segments has been done expertly and for those unfamiliar with Martinu's radiant score, this film - ending with the iconic image of the dead Manolios on the church steps, should prove a compelling and moving experience.” Gramophone Magazine, March 2008
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