The Greek Passion
Performed in the original English with Czech and English surtitles
The boy’s name was written into the snow. When the sun came out, the snow melted and his name was carried away by the water.
The priest Grigoris has summoned a meeting of the elders in the village of Lycovrissi and the villagers are being selected to play Christ and Apostles in the local passion plays when the deep peace in which the villagers have dwelt so far is disturbed by a sudden shock. Just as if the finger of God has appeared to demand proof of faith, refugees arrive from a pillaged and deserted village and ask for asylum. They are angrily refused and forced to seek shelter in the rocky mountains nearby. However, the newly appointed saints take it upon themselves to go to the worried refugees. The common daily worries of these people gradually fade away; the power of their faith and their roles in the approaching passion plays begin to transform their spiritual awareness into a new maturity. Every man and woman gradually realizes the only true meaning of one’s actions: are they good, or evil…? This is how Bohuslav Martinů characterized his last opera The Greek Passion, which was inspired by the novel Christ Recrucified by the Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis. The composer, who had also experienced the trials and tribulations of a refugee, created a work with a great humanistic message about the power of faith – a message which is more and more topical in today´s world. After the opera The Miracles of Mary and the oratorio The Epic of Gilgamesh, Martinů returns to the Janáček Theatre stage with another piece, this time featuring a beautiful and extensive choral part, The Greek Passion.
Synopsis of the Opera
The bell in Lycovrissi announces the end of the Easter Sunday church service. The priest Father Grigoris arrives and announces the names of the villagers whom the council of elders have chosen for the next passion plays. The roles of apostles James, Peter and John are assigned to café owner Kostandis, the pedlar and postman Yannakos and the mayor’s son Michelis. The role of Mary Magdalene is given to Katerina, a widow. Quick -tempered Panait was chosen for the character of Judas, though he desperately protests against the assigned role. Christ remains, and this most diffi cult task is laid at the feet of Manolios. All of the chosen begin to feel the burden of responsibility. They are supposed to live virtuously for the whole year so that they may resemble the characters they are to represent in the plays. Manolios falls into such deep thought that he does not even notice his bride Lenio is teasing him, but suddenly cries in the distance draw everyone’s attention. A crowd of wretched people arrive. They are fleeing from the Turks, who have burnt their village. Hungry and exhausted, they beg for help and a piece of land where they could settle down again. But Father Grigoris, who doesn’t want to share out his people’s prosperity or land, only has harsh words for the refugees and Fotis, the priest who leads them. One of the refugee women, Despinio, suddenly dies, exhausted from hunger. Grigoris makes use of this opportunity by crying out “Cholera!” Scared, many of the villagers flee. Only Manolios, Katerina and a few others remain. Manolios advises the refugees to settle down on Mount Sarakina where there is water, wild animals and enough wood to build a fire.
Katerina became a widow at a young age and has remained alone. The men of the village started to seek out her company, and she didn’t turn any of them down, whether it was Panait, old Patriarcheas or Grigoris. However, she thinks only of Manolios, but at the same time feels something more for him than just physical desire. She tells Yannakos of a dream she had about Manolios. Yannakos looks at Katerina in the same way as all the men in the village, and instead of understanding, she only receives a reprimand and is told to leave Manolios alone. Rich moneylender Ladas waits to speak to Yannakos. He tries to persuade the pedlar that he could get rich fast if he went to the people on Mount Sarakina and took the gold and jewels which they’ve saved from the Turks. Of course, they would share in the profi t. Yannakos gets an advance payment and sets off to Mount Sarakina. Manolios meets Katerina at St. Basil’s spring. She confesses to him that she dreams of him. He is not indiff erent to her, but he does not know how to help. Katerina begs him not to think about her anymore. On Mount Sarakina, Fotis is trying to rouse the exhausted refugees and convince them that they can build a new life there. In the foundations of the gate to the new village, where the bones of ancestors are supposed to be buried, an old man dies, reconciled and happy that his children will continue to live. Yannakos, who came to Sarakina to profit from the villagers’ poverty, is shaken. Crying, he confesses to Fotis that he wanted to get rich from their misfortune and asks for forgiveness, giving away Ladas’ money to the people there.
Manolios is full of doubts about his mission, and his internal struggle is refl ected in a feverish dream. He does not even notice Lenio when she comes to see him, and she decides to transfer her attentions to the shepherd Nikolios. Manolios goes down to the village to see Katerina. She welcomes him happily, but Manolios begs her not to pursue him as he sees her as his sister. Katerina is moved, his words purify her and she will be devoted to him her whole life. On the way to Sarakina, Katerina meets Yannakos. She explains to him that she is taking a sheep there so that the children will have enough milk. She doesn’t have any children herself, and so she feels like all of them are her own. Yannakos also fi nally understands Katerina’s transformation. Manolios is trying to persuade the people of the village to help the refugees. Father Grigoris is furious as he feels that his position is threatened. Action is needed. He drives Manolios out of the village along with the “apostles”. Michelis tells Yannakos and Kostandis that Lenio no longer wants to marry Manolios. Nikolios arrives, afraid to tell Manolios that he is getting married to Lenio. Manolios, however, wishes him good luck.
The joyful celebration of the wedding of Nikolios and Lenio is interrupted by the angry voice of priest Grigoris. The mangy sheep needs to be chased out of the herd so that it does not infect the others. Manolios is expelled from the church! Everyone who off ers to help him will suff er the same punishment. But Michelis, Yannakos and Kostandis stand fi rmly by him. Manolios confesses to his sins. The role of Christ had aroused pride in him, but now he understands its true nature. Everything in life has its time, and now the time has come for the world, a cruel place where children die of hunger, to pass away. The sounds of voices are heard from afar – the Sarakina people are coming to fight. At that moment, the villagers kill Manolios, accusing Panait – Judas of the deed. There is only one thing left for the refugees…