If you happen to be in the area in summertime, it is a memorable experience to watch an ancient tragedy or comedy in the theatre that is symbol of Greek and Western civilization. Here, where ancient drama was revived for the first time in the Modern Age, after a silence lasting seventeen centuries. Most performances have super-titles in English.
The revival took place in 1938 with Sophocles’ play Electra, directed by Dimitris Rontiris. The next production was Euripides’ Hippolytos, staged in 1954. This was the “dress rehearsal” for the Epidavros Festival, which was inaugurated in 1955 with Euripides’ Hecuba, directed by Alexis Minotis, towering figure of the Greek theatre. Two years later, in 1957, Alexis Solomos, another major homme de théâtre, directed Aristophanes’ Ekklesiazousai, with which Attic Comedy returned to the ancient Theatre.
Epidavros immediately became the field of artistic emulation, as the revival of ancient drama was object of experimentations in pursuit of a model of stage direction and interpretation that respected the ancient text and the venue. In 1960 Maria Callas sang the title role in Bellini’s Norma, inaugurating the performance of opera in the theatre, which was soon followed by ballet. This brought conductors such as Herbert von Karajan and choreographers such as Pina Bausch to Epidavros.
Over the first twenty years the productions of ancient drama were of the Greek National Theatre. Since 1975 other important theatre companies of Greece have appeared at Epidavros, each making its own distinctive mark. Since 1982, foreign directors too have presented their views on ancient drama, with excellent companies and directors such as Peter Hall, Peter Stein and others. Other classic works of the world theatrical repertoire have been performed, such as Sam Mendes’ production of Shakespeare’s Richard the Third, with Kevin Spacey in the title role. Among Greek actors of international fame who have appeared at Epidavros are Melina Mercouri and Irene Pappa.
Music-loving visitors to Epidavros in July will be well rewarded by a notable musical event hosted in the small Theatre of Ancient Epidavros. “Μikri Epidavros”, as the fourth-century BC theatre is popularly known, is located in the settlement of Archaia Epidavros, which stands on the site of the ancient city of Epidavros.
The festival known as “Musical July” quickly established a reputation, attracting sponsors and distinguished performers. In 2002 its organization was put under the umbrella of the Hellenic Festival, which is responsible for the Epidavros Festival held in the much larger Theatre of the Asklepieion of Epidavros.
The Theatre of Ancient Epidavros hosts concerts of classical, contemporary and traditional music, theatrical monologues, and so on.
Leading Greek singers have performed there, among them Maria Farandouri, Charis Alexiou and Giorgos Dalaras. Of the foreign artists who have appeared we mention indicatively the famous American pianist Stephen Kovacevich, the Spaniard Paco Peña with his ensemble in a concert of flamenco music with guitar, song and dance, Ι Solisti Veneti in a programme of Baroque music under conductor Claudio Scimone.
In 1998 the exhibition “Agritourism in Epidavros” was included in the “Musical July” event. Organized by the Municipality of Epidavros and the Regional Administration of the Peloponnese, it takes place in the small harbour of Archaia Epidavros, attracting producers, cottage industries, small enterprises and other initiatives. Visitors have the opportunity to sample excellent products of the Peloponnese: olive oil and olives, marmalades, local cheeses, honey, wine and so on.