Japan in Athens

A rich man who wanted to honour the memory of his wife built the Odeon at the foot of the Acropolis, in Athens. A rich man named Herodes Atticus, and the 2100 year old performance space is still packing them in. What Herodes may not have anticipated, however, were cherry blossoms falling across the ancient masonry. The blossoms, and of course butterflies, and also Hokusai's classic wave painting on some kind of video loop, with a U.S. navy ship imposed on the famous breakers. All these images were thrown on the gorgeous facade above the narrow stage and it was quite a sight, sight, sight. Repetition has an honoured history in art, but the otherwise beautiful new production of Madame Butterfly by the Greek National Opera Company was at times diminished by overkill on the visual effects.
The satin-jacketed conductor Myron Michalidis energetically led the musicians through Puccini's score, and Celia Costea as Butterfly was magnificent, her voice both delicate as a petal and strong as stone. Dimiti Plataneas as Sharpless was also very effective as the worried consul. Watching this classic story unfold reminded me of the importance of personal stories as vehicles for larger themes, including political statements. Again, however, the visual effects made the symbolism so blatant. Pinkerton dressed like a sloppy North American tourist, in obvious contrast to the lovely Chio Chio San and the nattily outfitted Sharpless. Why didn't the otherwise creative costume designer dress Pinkerton like a sailor? Why didn't Stefano Secco's voice consistently rise above the orchestra, for when it did, I found it thrilling.

Endless flag combat, both in the projected images and some actual props, underlined the message with a magic marker that might as well have said, "get it"?

But to sit in that theatre on a warm night, under a gibbous moon and imagine what performances originally took place there. The soft air, the cushioned marble benches, thoughts of Euripides, and Aeschylus. In ancient Greece there were regular drama contests, as popular as games and athletic events. All that and "One Fine Day.