The Greek Passion (opera)

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The Greek Passion (Czech Řecké pašije) is an opera in four acts by Bohuslav Martinů. The English-language libretto, by the composer, is based on Jonathan Griffin's translation of the novel The Greek Passion (or Christ Recrucified) by Nikos Kazantzakis.[1]


The opera exists in two versions. Martinů wrote the original version from 1954 to 1957. He offered this original version of the opera in 1957 to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, where the music director, Rafael Kubelík, and the general administrator, David Webster, had approved the score for production. However, following intervention by Sir Arthur Bliss, the company then demurred on the production and did not stage the work at the time.[2][3]

The composer then produced a second version of the opera, which received its first performance at the Zurich Opera, Zürich on 9 June 1961, after Martinů's death in 1959. The second version received its first UK production at Welsh National Opera on 29 April 1981, conducted by Sir Charles Mackerras.[4] The first US production was in 1981, at the Metropolitan Opera, in a production by the Indiana University School of Music.[5] However, the first version was later restored under the supervision of Aleš Březina. The premiere of the restored version was at The Bregenz Festival in 1999 and this production was later performed at Covent Garden in April 2000. This version received its Czech Republic premiere in January 2005.[6] The work's first performance in Greece was in Thessaloniki in 2005, using a Greek translation by Ioanna Manoledaki, based closely on the wording of Kazantzakis's novel; the conductor was Christian von Gehren.[7]


Role Voice type Premiere Cast, 9 June 1961[8][9]
(Conductor: Paul Sacher)
Manolios, a shepherd tenor Glade Peterson
Katerina, a young widow soprano Sandra Warfield
Panait, Katerina's lover tenor Zbyslaw Wozniak
Grigoris, priest of Lycovrissi bass-baritone James Pease
Fotis, priest of the refugees bass-baritone Heinz Borst
Yannakos, a pedlar tenor Fritz Peter
Kostandis, a café owner baritone Robert Kerns
Lenio, betrothed to Manolios soprano Jean Cook
Ladas, an old miser spoken Fritz Lanius
The Patriacheas, an elder bass-baritone Siegfried Tappolet
Michelis, son of the Patriacheas tenor Ernst-August Steinhoff
Nikolios, a young shepherd soprano Robert Thomas
Andonis, a barber spoken Leonhard Päckl
An old woman contralto Adelhait Schaer
A voice in the crowd baritone
Despinio, a refugee soprano Mirjam Lutomirski
An old man, a refugee bass Werner Ernst
Chorus: Villagers, refugees


The setting is Lykovrissi, a Greek village, where a performance of the Passion Play is scheduled to occur at Easter. As the story proceeds, the villagers cast in the play take on the personalities of their religious characters.

Act 1[edit]

The priest Grigoris distributes the roles for the following year's performance of the Passion Play. Café owner Kostandis is allotted James, the pedlar Yannakos Peter, Michelis is given John, shepherd Manolios is selected as Christ; and Katerina, a widow, is chosen to play Mary Magdalene. Panait, her lover, is given the role of Judas much against his wish. The actors are blessed and exhorted to live the life of their roles in the coming year. Manolios is engaged to Lenio who asks him when they are to be married, but he cannot think about marriage any longer. The villagers think of their respective roles and about how they correspond to their lives.

At dawn, singing is heard and a group of Greek refugees arrives in Lykovrissi from a village destroyed by the Turks, led by their priest, Fotis. Father Grigoris is concerned about the welfare and safety of his fellow villagers and of possible conflicts. One female refugee dies from hunger, but Father Grigoris blames the death on cholera and uses this to expel the refugees from the village. Only Katerina offers them practical assistance, but Manolios, Yannakos, Kostandis and Michelis take her lead, find food, and show them the nearby Sarakina mountain where the refugees may rest.

Act 2[edit]

The moral strength of the 'apostles' is tested. Katerina has fallen in love with Manolios and reveals this to Yannakos. The elder Ladas talks to the simple Yannakos about profiting from the refugees. The latter falls for the dream of wealth rushes off to the refugee camp of wants to relieve the refugees of their possessions.

Meeting Manolios he warns him about Katerina who then meets Manolios at a well where they reveal their mutual attraction, but Manolios rejects her and she is desolate.

Yannakos views the ceremony of the laying of the foundation stone of a new village on the mountainside, where an old man asks to be buried along with the bones of his ancestors. Yannakos, shamed by the poverty and welcome of the refugees, confesses to Fotis that he has come to cheat the refugees, but now gives all his money to help them.

Act 3[edit]

Manolios has been dreaming: of Lenio's reproaches, of Grigoris' exhortations to be worthy of his role, and of Katerina as the Holy Virgin. Lenio enters as he wakens to ask for one last time about their wedding, only for Manolios to reply ambiguously. When Manolios has left, Lenio is lured back by the piping of the shepherd Nikolios.

Manolios convinces Katerina that their love must be only spiritual, in the same manner as Jesus and Mary Magdalene. She decides to sell her goats to help the refugees.

Manolios appeals to the villagers to help the refugees, and is well received. However the village elders see a threat to their authority. Manolios is gaining a greater spiritual hold over the villagers, and the elders devise a plan to drive Manolios out of the village.

Act 4[edit]

During Lenio and Nikolios's wedding feast Father Grigoris warns them about the preaching of Manolios and excommunicates him. Michelis, Yannakos and Kostandis stay loyal to Manolios. Manolios appears and proclaims that the world's suffering will bring bloodshed. The refugees come down from the mountain in a state of misery. While Manolios preaches charity towards the refugees, Grigoris incites the villagers and Panait kills Manolios on the church steps as refugees enter. The villagers and the refugees mourn Manolios. Fotis leads the refugees away, in search of a new home.


Original version:

Revised version:


  1. ^ Smaczny, Jan. The Greek Passion. In: The New Grove Dictionary of Opera. Macmillan, London and New York, 1997.
  2. ^ Martin Anderson, "ROH, Covent Garden: Martinů's The Greek Passion". Tempo, 213, pp. 48-49 (2000).
  3. ^ Norman Lebrecht Covent Garden: The Untold Story : Dispatches from the English Culture War- 2001 1555534880 "[Kubelik] proposed to conduct the world premiere of The Greek Passion, by his Czech fellow-exile Bohuslav Martinu, but Sir Arthur Bliss, composer of the ephemeral Olympians, persuaded the Board that the score should first be 'seen by one or two competent musicians'. The authorities selected for this task were Edric Cundell of the Guildhall School of Music; John Denison of the Arts Council; and Anthony Lewis, a provincial conductor. Their reports were denigratory and the opera was dropped."
  4. ^ Malcolm Boyd, Review of recording of The Greek Passion. Musical Times, 23(1670), p. 265 (1982).
  5. ^ Peter G. Davis, "The Greek Passion - A Composer in Search of an Epic Tragedy". New York Times, 26 April 1981.
  6. ^ Rosie Johnson, "Out of the archives and onto the stage: Martinu's 'Greek Passion' revived". Czech Radio on-line article, 28 January 2005.
  7. ^ Březina, Aleš. The Greek Passion, finally in Greece. The Bohuslav Martinů Foundation and the Bohuslav Martinů Institute Newsletter, Vol V No 2, 6-7.
  8. ^ 'Bohuslav Martinů: La Passion Grecque'. In: Kaminski, Piotr. Mille et Un Opéras. Fayard, 2003, p841-2.
  9. ^ Cast list as printed in Zurich Opera programme book, 9 June 1961
  10. ^ Schirmer - Review


  • Smaczny, Jan, The Greek Passion in 'The New Grove Dictionary of Opera', ed. Stanley Sadie (London, 1992) ISBN 0-333-73432-7

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