The Greek Passion Review

Newcastle Theatre Royal – 2 November 2019 and on tour around the UK


A night at the opera (no, not the Queen album from 1975) is something that seems out of the reach of the “common” man, but Opera North are encouraging all sections of the community to attend their performances, starting with Martinu’s The Greek Passion.

Sung in English and with subtitles, The Greek Passion is as relevant today as it was when it was first composed over 60 years ago.  Based on Nokos Kazantzakis’s 1948 novel Christ Recrucified, The Greek Passion opens in the remote Greek village of Lycovrissi. Its Easter Sunday and the village elders are handing out the roles for their Passion play to be performed in a years time.

Archon (Jonathan Best), one of the elders, wants his son to play Jesus, instead his son Michelis (Rhodri Prys-Jones) is chosen to play Peter.  Archon’s daughter Lenio (Lorna James) is engaged to be married to Manolios (Nicky Spence) who is chosen to play Jesus. The other villagers Kostandis (Richard Mosley -Evans) the cafe owner is James.  Yannakos (Paul Nilon) the postman is John. But Panait (Jeffrey Lloyd-Roberts) is upset to be chosen to play Judas. Katerina (Magdalena Molendowska), a widow and lover of Panait is chosen to be Mary Magdalen.

In the middle of this, a group of refugees arrives lead by their Priest Fotis (John Savournin).  Their village was burnt and they had to flee. When one of the refugees dies from exhaustion and starvation, Lycovrissi’s Priest, Grigoris (Stephan Gadd) declares it is cholera and frightens the other villagers from helping the refugees.  Manolio, in his role of Jesus, gives divine intervention, and tells the refugees to take shelter on the Sarakina mountains

Christopher Alden’s confident direction makes the story very clear. Charles Edwards’s staging is very minimalist in style – a raked wooden seating bank (which doubles up as a mountaintop as the story progresses) taking up most of the stage. White mannequins are used to represent the refugees when the chorus are playing the villagers, but when the chorus are the refugee’s they hold the mannequins.

The music is, of course, glorious.  The idea of a simple set lets the Opera North’s orchestra, led by Anthony Hermus,  mean that it’s the beautiful sound that we concentrate on. Nicky Spence leads the exquisite singing as he portrays his journey from lowly Shepherd to Jesus.  The Opera North chorus, the Kyrie Eleison in particular, are thrilling – with a score that covers both ecstasy and violence

The ideals are that kindness and empathy towards those in need are the things we should be doing without thinking, whatever the political climate.  Opera North staging of The Greek Passion does just that.