Impresario Peter Tiboris announced on February 14, 2018, that he has commissioned acclaimed composer Christopher Theofanidis and poet and librettist J. D. McClatchy, a 2003 finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, to create an opera-oratorio based on the international bestseller Eleni, about a woman’s sacrifice to save her children during the Greek Civil War.
The opera-oratorio will premiere at Carnegie Hall on March 25, 2021, the 200th anniversary of the revolution that freed Greece from 400 years of Turkish occupation. “I was deeply moved by Nicholas Gage‘s memoir that demonstrates so powerfully that Greeks have struggled and sacrificed throughout their history in defense of freedom,” said Mr. Tiboris, the grandson of Greek immigrants who settled in Sheboygan, WI, where he grew up. “Eleni’s heroic story has always been especially poignant to me because of my Greek roots.”
The Opera-Oratorio will be based on the memoir Eleni by Nicholas Gage, which has been translated into more than 20 languages, made into a motion picture, and acclaimed by critics as “a devoted and brilliant achievement.”
The book tells the story of Gage’s mother, Eleni Gatzoyiannis, who engineered the escape of her eight-year-old son and three daughters from their mountain hamlet during the Greek civil war in 1948, after she learned that the Communist guerrillas who occupied the village were planning to collect all the children and send them behind the Iron Curtain. In retribution for her defiance, she was imprisoned, tortured and then executed by a firing squad, her body left unburied at the bottom of a ravine. She was 41 years old.
Eleni tells how her son Nicola joined his father in America and grew up to become a top New York Times investigative reporter, honing his skills with one goal in mind–to return to Greece, track down the men most responsible for his mother’s death and avenge her murder.
“The new commission is envisioned to be a 90-minute opera-oratorio for four to five world-class soloists, large orchestra, large chorus, children’s chorus and narrator, who will be Mr. Gage in the premiere presentation,” said Mr. Tiboris, the general director and founder of MidAmerica Productions and MidAm International in New York. Mr Tiboris will conduct the world premiere with his Manhattan Philharmonic which he founded in 1990.
After the New York premiere, the Pan-European Philharmonia of Warsaw will present the European premiere in Athens, again conducted by Tiboris, who has been its music director since 2008.
The composer, Christopher Theofanidis has been twice nominated for a Grammy for best composition, first in 2007 for “The Here and Now,” based on the poetry of the 13th century Sufi mystic Rumi, and in 2017, for “Bassoon Concerto.” He has written widely for the stage, including a ballet for the American Ballet Theatre and operas for the Houston Grand Opera and the San Francisco Opera.
His popular composition Rainbow Body, which won the 2003 Masterprize international competition, has been performed by over 150 orchestras throughout the world. Dreamtime Ancestors, a consortium work for New Music for America, has being played by over 50 different orchestras over the past two seasons. He has also served as Composer of the Year for the Pittsburgh Symphony during their 2006-7 seasons, for which he wrote a violin concerto for Sarah Chang, and has a special lifelong relationship with the Atlanta Symphony and Maestro Robert Spano, with whom he has made several recordings.
Theofanidis holds degrees from Yale, Eastman and the University of Houston, and has also been the recipient of the Rome Prize, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Fulbright fellowship to France, and three fellowships from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
A former faculty member of Julliard and the Peabody Conservatory of Johns Hopkins University, he is currently a professor at Yale University and a composer-in-residence of the Aspen Music Festival.
Like Tiboris, he feels a special bond to Eleni as well. “My father lived in Crete during World War II and the Greek Civil War and saw up close how the Greek people suffered,” recalls Theofanidis, a native of Dallas, Texas. His mother was American born.
J.D. “Sandy” McClatchy is a prize-winning poet and literary critic as well as a noted librettist. He has written 16 opera libretti, including William Schumann’s “A Question of Taste,” Ned Rorem’s “Our Town,” Lowell Liebermann’s “Miss Lonelyhearts,” Elliot Goldenthal and Julie Taymor’s “Grendel,” and Lorin Maazel’s “1984.” In 2013, his adaptation of Stephen King’s “Dolores Claiborne” was performed at the San Francisco Opera.
McClatchy served for 27 years as editor of the Yale Review before resigning in June 2017. He has published six collections of poetry, the fifth of which, Hazmat, was a finalist for the 2003 Pulitzer Prize. He has also served as president of the American Academy of Art and Letters.
Additional projects include “Little Nemo in Slumberland” with Daron Hagen, and “The Secret Agent” with Michael Dellaira, “Vincent” with composer Bernard Rands, which opened in 2011; and “An Inconvenient Truth” based on Al Gore’s film, with composer Giorgio Battistelli, commissioned by Teatro alla Scala (2013 premiere).
His new translation of “The Magic Flute” for the 2004 Metropolitan Opera was broadcast live to movie theaters around the world, and is now performed every other holiday season at the Met. He has written narrations for performances by the New York Philharmonic and the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the supertitles for Metropolitan Opera productions.
McClatchy previously served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1996 until 2003 and the Academy of American Poets from 1996 until 2003. A native of Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, McClatchy was educated at Georgetown and Yale, from which he received his Ph.D. He has taught at Princeton, Columbia, UCLA, Johns Hopkins and Yale.
Music Director Peter Tiboris has presented 1,300 concerts at classical music venues around the world, including 560 at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, through the company he founded in 1983, MidAmerica Productions. In 2004, he founded a summer music festival on the Greek island of Syros, the Festival of the Aegean, whose concerts, operas and performances have been recognized as among the best offered anywhere in Europe. In the last 10 years, he has created European festivals in Florence/Verona/Venice, Paris, Vienna/Salzburg, Vienna/Budapest, Lisbon/Porto and Berlin/Prague. He holds music directorships in Florence, Vienna and Warsaw, Poland. He has been recorded on 16 CDs and videos under the aegis of Bridge Recordings and Elysium Recordings. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and University of Illinois.
Over the past 34 years, MidAmerica Productions, which he founded, is now the foremost independent producer of concerts in the history of Carnegie Hall. In 2018, MidAmerica Productions will again feature talented conductors and musicians from all over the United States and the world in performances in Stern Auditorium/Perelman Stage in Carnegie Hall.
In 2012, MidAm International, Inc. was formed to support MidAmerica’s growing presence in Europe. Since then, it has produced concerts in Vienna, Salzburg, Florence, Verona, Venice, Syros, and Athens with concerts slated in 2019 for Paris and Macao/Beijing/Hong Kong, as well as Vienna/Salzburg; Florence/Verona/Venice; Prague/Berlin; and Syros, Greece which will be the location for the 15th Annual International Festival of the Aegean.
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