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‘Iphigenie’ a triumph at S.F. Opera June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Some operas arrive ahead of their time; others take longer. Gluck’s “Iphigenie en Tauride” is more than two centuries old, but the San Francisco Opera had never performed it before Thursday’s triumphant company premiere at the War Memorial Opera House.

That didn’t stop an appreciative crowd from embracing it; at the end of this gripping two hour, 10-minute performance, the opening night audience cheered as long and as loudly as if they had just heard one of opera’s greatest hits.

Which, in a way, they had. Composed in 1779, Gluck’s final masterpiece may not be as oft-performed as many operas in the standard repertoire. But, as Thursday’s opening demonstrated, its impact is enormous. With mezzo-soprano Susan Graham singing the title role with a compelling blend of vocal majesty and dramatic urgency, and Patrick Summers leading an expansive musical performance in the pit, “Iphigenie” came alive onstage like a force of nature.

Robert Carsen’s darkly dramatic staging, a co-production of San Francisco Opera, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Royal Opera, Covent Garden, continues through June 29 as the final offering of S.F. Opera’s 2006/07 season.

Like Gluck’s earlier “Iphigenie en Aulide,” “Iphigenie in Tauride” focuses on a chapter from the blood-drenched Greek house of Atreus. It all starts with a dream; the Trojan War has ended, and Iphigenie, the daughter of the Greek King Agamemnon and his murderous wife, Clytemnestra, is in exile in Tauris, serving as a priestess of the goddess Diane. When a shipwreck brings two men to the shores of the island, she is ordered to sacrifice them. Unfortunately, one of the men is her brother, Oreste.

Carsen and his designers, Tobias Hoheisel (sets) and Peter van Praet (lighting), give the opera a modern, abstract setting; the nearly empty stage is framed by black walls on which the names of Iphigenie and her family members are written in large letters. Director Jean Michel Criqui stages the action in a series of searing tableaux, with a silent Greek “chorus” of dancers onstage, acting out in stylized movement (choreography by Phillipe Giraudeau) the violence, real and imagined, expressed in musical terms throughout Gluck’s score.

It’s an appropriately stark setting for an opera steeped in guilt, anguish and profound psychological torment. As Iphigenie’s initial sense of foreboding gives way to the shock of recognition, and the realization that the men she’s been told to kill are in fact her brother and his faithful friend, Pylade, the opera creates an almost unbearable atmosphere of tension and impending tragedy.

At Thursday’s opening, Graham added another unforgettable performance to a long list of memorable S.F. Opera roles. Barefoot and dressed in a simple black gown, her long hair flowing, the mezzo easily scaled the role’s soprano heights. Graham sang with phenomenal strength and precision (and fluid, idiomatic French); her large, luxuriant voice never seems to tire, and she delivered the opera’s great arias, particularly the riveting set piece, “O melheureuse Iphigenie,” with unstinting power. Just as impressively, she shaded the role with pathos and vulnerability, making the character’s torment the deeply felt center of the opera.

Graham was brilliantly supported by the rest of the cast. Baritone Bo Skovhus was a virile, firm-toned Oreste. Tenor Paul Groves sang with beauty and elegance as the loyal Pylade. Bass-baritone Mark S. Doss was a forceful Thoas, and soprano Heidi Melton, singing from an upper tier, laid down the law in a stream of gorgeous sound as Diane. Virginia Pluth and Sally Mouzon (First and Second Priestess), Torlef Borsting (a Scythian), Jeremy Galyon (Minister) and Melody Moore (Greek maiden) made strong contributions. The S.F. Opera Chorus, unseen in the pit, made their every note felt throughout the house.

Presiding over all was Summers, who conducted a performance of tremendous vivacity, sweep and color. The conductor set a brisk pace throughout, but never rushed or covered his singers. Summers, by the way, returns this fall to conduct another mesmerizing French-language opera, “Samson and Delilah.” That’s good news, too, almost as good as the arrival of “Iphigenie” in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Opera > Gluck’s “Iphigenie en Tauride”, War Memorial Opera House, 301 Van Ness Ave., S.F., Through June 29, Tickets $25-$245

For info call 415-864-3330 or visit > http://www.sfopera.com


Get more than gyros at annual Greek Festival June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora Festivals.
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Greek Festival will serve up plenty of baklava and other Greek foods, along with dancing and fun, during its run Thursday-June 23 at Headwaters Park. 

Have you ever wondered what more there is to Greek culture than a gyro at one of Fort Wayne’s Greek restaurants? Starting Thursday at Headwaters Park, the 27th annual Greek Festival will have you saying “Yia’sou,” the Greek word meaning hello, over and over again to your fellow neighbors as you experience three days of food, dancing and fun.

Expanding past the typical gyro, the men of American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association will be cooking up authentic dishes that will give you a taste of native Greece. From spanakopitas (spinach and feta pies) to mousaka (eggplant, potatoes and beef) to the very popular grilled octopus, there will be something for everyone.

And if entrees aren’t your thing, the Ladies of Philoptochos will prepare fresh-baked pastries to satisfy the sweet tooth in us all. Traditional baklava and sweet breads (tsoureki) are just a few of the desserts you’ll find at the festival.

However, the festival does not end with its food. There are amusement rides for children and Greek dance classes for all. Dancing is important to everyday Greek life, and the festival is offering one-hour workshop at 2 p.m. and 3:15 p.m. on both Friday and June 23.

Serving as inspiration for festive dancing will be Toledo’s Hellenic Dance Company and Holy Trinity’s dance group “E Meraklides,” as well as their children’s dance group “Ta Kala Paidia” (The Good Kids). General admission is free during the day all three days, and $2 starting at 5 p.m. for those 16 and older.

Topping off the festival is something everyone has been looking to get their hands on. The grand prize in Greek Fest’s raffle is $1,000 in free gas. Tickets are only $1 each and can be purchased either by calling Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 489-0774 or at pavilion during the festival.

Greek Festival, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily Thursday-June 23
Headwaters Park on Clinton Street just north of Superior Street.
Free until 5 p.m.; $2 after 5 p.m. for ages 16 and older, free for ages under 16.
Contact Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church at 489-0774.

What to see > Here’s the schedule for this year’s Greek Fest at Headwaters Park:
“Ikari,” performing live Greek music, 6-10 p.m.
“Ta Kala Paidia” (“The Good Kids”), Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s Children’s Dance Group, 5 p.m.

Holy Trinity’s Dance Group “E Meraklides,” 12:15, 5:30 and 8 p.m.

E Meraklides, 12:15 and 5:30 p.m.
Greek Dance Workshops (1 hour), 2 and 3:15 p.m.
Toledo’s Hellenic Dance Company, 7:30 p.m.

June 23
E Meraklides, 12:15 and 5:30 p.m.
Greek Dance Workshop (1 hour), 2 and 3:15 p.m.
Toledo’s Hellenic Dance Company, 6:30 and 8:30 p.m.

Note: There is a $2 cover charge for persons age 16 and up for all events starting at or after 5 p.m.

Greek Festival set for Saturday June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Greek Diaspora Festivals.
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Members of the Holy Transfiguration Greek Orthodox Church in Mason City have been baking up a storm since the day after Memorial Day in preparation for the Greek Festival on June 16.

On a recent morning in the church basement, they were busy preparing kourambiedes cookies. Church members rolled the dough into balls. After the pans of cookies came out of the oven, they used strainers to shake a blizzard of powdered sugar over them. Men, women and children all help with the food preparation.

The cookies, pastries and bread will be available for sale during the morning of the festival, which takes place from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the church at 1311 Second St. S.W.

A favorite part of the festival is the dancing. In addition to dancers from the church, a dance troupe from Albert Lea, Minn., and a professional Middle Eastern dancer will perform at the festival. A Greek band also will play.

Festival-goers can purchase a Greek-style chicken dinner or buy gyros, souvlaki (pork on a stick) and many other items a la carte. Spices, macaroni, cookbooks and T-shirts also will be available for sale. Face painting and games will help keep children entertained.

Church member Jim Fountas said he enjoys “getting everyone together and seeing all the people come and enjoy the Greek day. Everybody seems to have fun.”

Socrates as a woman, and other twists on the Ancients June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Hellenic Light Americas.
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Socrates didn’t much care for the theater, or so Plato insists in “The Republic.” “All poetical imitations are ruinous to the understanding of the hearers,” Socrates declares at one point.

But beginning tomorrow, the Target Margin Theater company will make Socrates not only the lead character in a play, but also its co-author, with an adaptation of Plato’s “Symposium” retitled “Dinner Party.” If that is not a sufficiently unlikely theatrical combination, the adaptation will run in tandem with Aristotle’s “Poetics,” here called “The Argument,” by David Greenspan, the actor and director.

Target Margin’s artistic director, David Herskovits, founded this experimental theater company in 1991. From its first production, a bloody version of “Titus Andronicus” set in a Lower East Side basement, Target Margin has focused on neglected classics like Dorothy and DuBose Heyward’s “Mamba’s Daughters” and the plays of Gertrude Stein. Mr. Herskovits said he started the company because “there wasn’t a place in the institutional theater that would be naturally welcoming and supportive of me; I wanted to do things that were a little further outside the mainstream.” And he has. The company has produced more than 30 works in which large casts, boisterous design and frenetic action have crowded small downtown stages.

Over matzo-ball soup and corned-beef sandwiches, Mr. Herskovits explained why he enjoyed turning philosophical treatises into theatrical shows. One reason, with the current productions in particular, he said, is that “The Symposium” and “Poetics” actually do lend themselves to drama.

“Both make room for theatrical experience,” he said, and are “set in a particular scene with a particular group of characters and a high level of contradictory and overlapping motivations, agendas, ironies and confusions.” He added, “What the theater can do, it can dramatize those things.” Mr. Herskovits, like any good follower of Socrates, will often claim that he knows nothing. “I don’t know what a play is,” he’ll say, or, “Believe me, I could be a total idiot about all this stuff.” But with degrees in classics from Yale and Cambridge, postgraduate work in Greek and 20 years as a director, he is not exactly adrift.

“Dinner Party” and “The Argument” represent the culmination of a season devoted to the Greeks. They follow productions of Euripides’ “As Yet Thou Art Young and Rash” and Sophocles’ “Women of Trachis.” His plan for the season, he said, was “to really mount a broad-ranging theatrical investigation of classical Greek culture,” and to do so by looking “beyond the canon of classical drama” to sources that might not immediately be seen as theatrical experiences.

Richard Foreman, founder of the Ontological-Hysteric Theater and Mr. Herskovits’s first employer in New York, said he applauded his “dedication to plays from the repertory that no one else dares to perform.” And Mr. Herskovits acknowledged an attraction to “material that many theaters will resist because it’s large, because it’s obscure, because it’s very literary.”

Such material, which he characterized as having “a high resistance” to audiences, as well as to himself, appeal to him because they contain “situations we cannot fathom easily, tonal problems, opaque language.”

Martin Puchner, a theater professor at Columbia University, said that more than 100 plays, beginning in the 17th century, have featured Socrates as a character. But Target Margin’s latest offering, he said, may well be the first one in which a young African-American woman plays the part. She is Stephanie Weeks, but during “Dinner Party” all the actors use their first names. So Stephanie, Han Nah and Steven replace Socrates, Agathon and Aristophanes.

The setting is a contemporary loft, and the music comes from a D.J. offering Lauryn Hill, Gotan Project and Seu Jorge. And, significantly, women invade the formerly all-male precincts of “The Symposium.”

Much of the conversation in “The Symposium” involved pederasty, but Mr. Herskovits’s production instead features both homosexual and heterosexual relations between adults. The play’s dramaturge, Kathleen Kennedy Tobin, defends this choice, arguing: “The classical dynamic of man-youth love doesn’t exist today. There’s no equivalent in modern society for this accepted power-education-desire dynamic. You’d have to set it in ancient Greece, with a long program note.”

Mr. Herskovits said that he chose to “sacrifice an allegiance to that bit of history in order to favor what I believe are the deep truths about love and human relationships.”

Neither Ms. Tobin nor Mr. Herskovits said they wanted to create a show requiring a philosophy degree to understand. Using contemporary settings and actors’ own names was intended to make the proceedings clearer, Ms. Tobin said. She and Mr. Herskovits have walked the cast through the original Greek and several translations to help them create an improvised, idiomatic script.

Mr. Herskovits said that “the decision to improvise language is a choice in tension with the literary qualities of the speeches,” but he felt that “the idiomatic freedom and instantaneous texture of the performances make the game worth the candle.”

He described Plato’s language as so much “smoke.” He encouraged the actors to clutch at “the core of thought” behind it, to “scrape away all of the encrustation of scholarship and translation and expectation.”  The theme and tension in “Dinner Party” come from asking, what is love, and how does it differ from sexual desire?

Plato really is interested in getting beyond human erotic relationships, but he always remembers that that’s what’s driving us all,” Mr. Herskovits said. “It isn’t either-or. It’s both. That’s why it’s a Target Margin show.”

“Dinner Party” and “The Argument” open tomorrow and run together through June 30 at the Kitchen, 512 West 19th Street, Chelsea; (212) 255-5793, Ext. 11.

Scorpions’ ‘Humanity – Hour 1’ enters Greek Chart at No.2 June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Music Life Greek, Music Life Live Gigs.
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Scorpions’ latest album, “Humanity – Hour 1”, has entered the Greek chart at position No. 2. The group’s updated first-week chart results are as follows >

Greece: #2
Germany: #9
Switzerland: #27
Finland: #29
Austria: #41
Sweden: #41
Italy: #44
Czech Republic: #47
France: #58
Spain: #59
Netherlands: #91

Scorpions’ video for the song “Humanity” has been posted at http://georgiew.de (Follow these instructions: Click on “Clips”, then “Music”, and you will see a picture of Scorpions’ singer Klaus Meine in frame No. 3. Click on the photo to view the clip)

A 10-minute video clip of Scorpions singer Klaus Meine and guitarist Rudolf Schenker answering questions at a Paris press conference for the band’s new album, “Humanity – Hour 1”, has been posted at YouTube.

A 30-minute audio interview with Klaus Meine, conducted by Nikos Mastorakis of Greece’s Radio Gold 103.3, has been made available for download at http://www.scorpions.gr/root/goldinter.mp3 (MP3, 6.78 MB). During the interview, Meine discusses the band’s new album, “Humanity – Hour I”, and addresses the possibility of the band retiring without releasing another studio CD.

The Scorpions are due for a live show in Athens on June 18 along with Joe Cocker and Juliette and The Licks.

Related Links > http://georgiew.de

Oscar-Winner Dukakis to accept Greek Film Festival Honor June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Movies Life, Movies Life Greek.
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Olympia Dukakis tapped for first LAGFF Lifetime Achievement Award

Veteran actress Olympia Dukakis is no stranger to receiving awards, including the Best Supporting Actress Honor for “Moonstruck”, but perhaps none is more sweeter than one she’s due to receive this weekend.

It’s the first Lifetime Achievement Award to be handed out by the organizers of the Los Angeles Greek Film Festival. Starting Thursday night, the LAGFF for four days will showcase 24 feature and short films, as well as celebrate industry people of Greek lineage. Dukakis will receive honor from Oscar-winning filmmaker Alexander Payne at Sunday night’s closing ceremonies.

“I’ve gotten awards from my peers, but this one is special because it is from Greek-Americans,” Dukakis said in a recent interview. “They perhaps understand my journey better than most people.”

And what a journey it has been for Dukakis. Born the daughter of Greek immigrants in 1931 in Lowell, Mass., Dukakis has long worked on stage and in front of the camera, starting in the early 1960s. She hit her stride in 1987 as Cher’s mother in “Moonstruck” and has since gone on to star in such hit films as “Steel Magnolias,” “Mighty Aphrodite,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and, most recently, “In the Land of Women.”

In addition, she’s guest-starred on such television shows as “Frasier,” “The Simpsons” and “Numb3rs,” and has starred in “The Librarian” television movies. But no matter what medium she’s worked in, Dukakis has always managed to keep her feet firmly planted on the stage.

“To me all are different, but are all totally engaging,” Dukakis said. “Films are different from the stage and certainly engage me. But if I didn’t do stage work, I wouldn’t know who I was. I’ve been doing it for 50 years.”

Dukakis said that the one thing she’s enjoyed about switching back and forth between the mediums is the variety. But the differences come not necessarily in terms of the material, she says, but how that material is presented.

“The mediums are so different,” Dukakis said. “The proscenium of the camera is very different in the way it defines the space. It’s very close to you and very intimate, as opposed to the theater, where intimacy has to be articulated so that it can be understood and experienced quite a distance away. So, it’s a different way of working and a different experience of yourself, and I like both of them.”

Once Dukakis accepts accepts the LAGFF Lifetime Achievement Award Sunday, she plans on keeping it in a safe place. After all, that other big award, the Oscar statuette, was stolen from Dukakis right out of her own kitchen.

“I got another one, though, but paid $70 for it,” Dukakis said with a laugh. “But at least they left the nameplate.”

Related Links > http://www.lagreekfilmfestival.org

Marcos Baghdatis digs deep to win in Halle June 15, 2007

Posted by grhomeboy in Tennis Squash.
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Marcos Baghdatis was forced to dig deep to reach the quarterfinals of the Gerry Weber Open in beating Robin Soderling 6-7 (9), 6-4, 6-3 yesterday.

The eighth-seed Baghdatis came back from a break down in the final two sets.

“First set, he served very, very well,” said Baghdatis. “The second set didn’t start that well and he broke me early on, but just like a goalkeeper in football facing a penalty, I focused on one corner of the court and kept him there. I broke him back and I am just pleased to have found a solution to the problem and reach the quarter-finals.”

A double-fault by the 28th-ranked Soderling handed Baghdatis a decisive break in the fifth game of the final set.

“It was a tough game mentally, as much as physically,” said the 21-year-old, who will have double cause to celebrate his birthday on Sunday if he reaches the final. “I’m definitely a favorite now, but there are many good players,” Baghdatis said. “Your really have to concentrate. two or three stupid mistakes and a break and you are out.”

Having served up 14 aces, compared to the Swedes 7, Baghdatis simply made fewer unforced errors, 20 to Soderling’s 37, and held his nerve to reach the last eight where he will play either top-seed Nikolay Davdenko or German Florian Mayer. The 18-ranked Cypriot, who reached the 2006 Australian Open final, was buoyed by the win. The pair had met twice already on hard courts with the Swede coming out on top both times, so the second-round win was sweet revenge for eighth-seed Baghdatis, who lost to Spain’s Rafael Nadal in last year’s Wimbledon semi-final.

“For sure, this time I want to do better and win the title at Wimbledon, that’s my goal,” Baghdatis said. “Now I play good on grass. I played on it a couple of times as a junior and was really bad.”

Baghdatis fell four times on the slippery grass of center court. He even cut his knee, but said it did not affect his play.

Sixth-seeded Mikhail Youzhny pulled out of the tournament yesterday with a back injury, giving Tomas Berdych a spot in the semifinals. ”I really would like to have won the title here at the Gerry Weber Open,” Youzhny said. “This is too bad for the tournament here in Halle.”