Opera Magazine Crit

The Greek Passion

Opera North at the Grand Theatre, Leeds, September 21

There can be few operas of greater conscience than Martinu's The Greek Passion, a work for today in every sense. Yet whether because it has fallen on deaf ears or hard hearts, it remains a rarity in the country that originally commissioned it—moreover, one that has been notably well disposed towards Czech music. Why? Its initial rejection by Covent Garden in the late 1950s may have had something to do with tensions over colonial Cyprus, but it has made only sporadic appearances since then and its return now in the Empire 2.0 era of tightening borders is not a moment too soon: Opera North's new staging, the first in this country in 20 years, shows how Martinu's final operatic masterpiece is perhaps the most moving and topically relevant opera of our time.

Based on Nikos Kazantzakis's novel of dispossession and displacement, its subject is exile, and all the elements of Martinu's own scattered life and diverse stylistic experimentation come together in the piece. The topic of forced migration confronting intolerance and bigotry clearly touched a composer who had spent his life in exile, the latter part of it enforced—his homeland was under totalitarian rule. That acutely personal feeling flares up most potently when Ales Brezina's reconstructed original version is used, as at Opera North. There is no contradiction between its intricate dramaturgy and simple honesty, at least not when they are reconciled so sensitively by the director Christopher Alden and conductor Garry Walker.

• Christopher Alden's new staging of'The Greek Passion'at Opera North, with Nicky Spence as Manolios

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