Martinu’s masterpiece The Greek Passion marks the new season for both Opera North and Rich Pickings. Under the masterful MD Garry Walker musically this is absolutely essential and resounds with burning passion. And the libretto, based on Kazantzakis’ novel Christ Recrucified, is a gripping rollercoaster of intense emotions.
Nicky Spence excels in his depiction of the shepherd Manolios who plays a troubled and tormented Jesus in the village passion play. While Magdalena Molendowska as the widow Katenna is a seductive soprano playing her namesake Mary Magdalene with sexy allure. Paul Nilon is the postman Yannakos who has his bicycle replace the traditional donkey for Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. Picking the short straw is Panait (a duplicitous Jeffrey Lloyd Roberts) as Judas.
After being introduced to the key players we are confronted by a large group of refugees fleeing Turkish persecution. They beg for mercy but find none at the hands of village priest Grigoris (a pseudo-religious Steven Gadd) who flatly rebuts their pleas citing the danger of cholera. And the refugees’ priest Fotis (a lively John Savournin) is forced to take his congregation to the mountains.
As the play ensues we see the division between the two camps, the haves and the havenots, even though those in the Passion play do attempt to live up to their fictional roles. It is a fateful end for Manolios and one quite befitting the regime of fear and panic over the refugees and the collapse of a benevolent and peaceful Christianity. The show has many repercussions for contemporary society and Opera North’s own stance as a Theatre of Sanctuary.
As a regular Opera North reviewer I have to say this is one of the finest productions I’ve had the pleasure to see, with all aspects of the show binding together into a supremely moving and touching whole.
Reviewed by Rich Jevons at Leeds Grand Theatre on 14 September 2019. See Opera North website for further dates.