Chronicle: A Sequel

In 1984, I had a series of long conversations with the late conductor of both the “Elliniko Melodrama” and the National State Opera, Totis Karalivanos. We discussed the impending musical revival of Rhea, by Spyros Samaras (known abroad as Spiro Samara, a somewhat Italianized version of his name) at the festival of Corfu, that year. During these conversations I realized how enchanted the maestro was, by another opera by Samaras. It was called La Martire and he had himself instructed and directed it.

According to Karalivanos, La Martire was a piece of work which had all necessary elements of a significant opera: it had a libretto both dense and concise, written in a lovely poetical way (Luigi Illica, who wrote the libretto was one of the best of this kind in the history of opera) and at the same time the music was full, eventful in terms of melody and, what is more important, it was theatrical. The maestro also stressed the fact that La Martire had been the second great success of Samaras after Flora Mirabilis and at the same time one of the first complete operas of the veristic movement (in contrast to the prevailing operas of P. Mascagni Cavalleria Rusticana and of R. Leoncavallo I Pagliacci, which cannot alone cover, in terms of duration, a whole theatrical evening.

I was greatly influenced by the faith of Karalivanos in this composition and thought, that, since my interest was to revive and make known the works of Samaras, it was worth choosing La Martire as my next project. My decision was taken as soon as I read the vocal score, which the maestro had the kindness to offer me, along with his own Greek translation of the libretto.

La Martire was revealed to me as something completely different in comparison to the previous operas by Samaras Flora and Medge. Perhaps it is the first of his stage works (my reserves are due to the fact that I have managed to locate only a fragment of Lionella, the opera which has preceded it) in which we encounter the technique of a continuous musical flow instead of independent musical sections (arias etc.). This fact, coupled with the contemporary plot of the story in the libretto, results in a typical veristic example. What I needed was the chance to revive La Martire.

A few years later, specifically in 1990 –almost 100 years after La Martire was composed and 30 years after its last performance by the National State Opera, I finally had my chance. The Pazardjik Symphony Orchestra of Bulgaria, after many performances of the 9th of Beethoven, named me honorary guest conductor. One of my first proposals to the orchestra was the recording of operas by Samaras, and it was accepted enthusiastically. The history and music of Samaras was well known to the Bulgarian musicians since the performance of Rhea by the Sofia Radio Symphony Orchestra and Choir in Corfu in 1984.

The recording of La Martire took place in June 1990 (a year later we also recorded La Biondinetta by the same composer, at the same place) and a few months later, in November 1990, La Martire was played, live, in the New Municipal Theatre of Volos, by the same musicians, thanks to the help of my dear friend Mr. Dimitris Marangopoulos. Unfortunately La Martire was given in concert performance and not acted out –exactly as had happened with Rhea 6 years earlier.

I must admit that the recording conditions were not ideal. The Pazardjik theatre’s acoustics is not bad, but almost every day we were interrupted by political gatherings and demonstrations which took place in the square outside the theatre. (Political change was recent in Bulgaria and we were also during a preelection period). These gatherings made a terrible noise that penetrated the theatre walls, and we could hear all the speecces, songs etc. –among others, songs by Mikis Theodorakis in Greek (!). All these made the recording impossible at moments. For historical reasons, some of the noises can be heard on the final tape.

Concluding this chronicle (which started with Rhea and has not yet ended), I must deeply thank all those who contributed in the recording. All of them, the soloists, the orchstra, the chorus, the teacher pianist and the technicians, did their best under conditions that were far from being ideal. To them I want to express my admiration and gratitude.

Last but not least, I must refer to all those who are now gone, and who led me to explore the works of Samaras. It is with great emotion that I remember the composer’s compatriots Antiochos Evanghelatos, Yannis Constandinidis and Totis Karalivanos, who urged me to study the works of the composer, and of course Kyriakos Maravelias who enthusiastically supported this project, just before his sudden death.

However, the realization of this project would have been impossible without the assistance and support of my beloved wife. Consequently I would like to dedicate it to her, as a small means of expressing my gratitude.