Forgotten Verdi Opera Unites U.S. and Greece

by Ioanna Sfekas Karvelas,
Dramatic Soprano, Director of Opera Lesvos


World Premiere Revival performance in Portland, Oregon
European Premiere Revival performance in Lesbos, Greece

Lewis and Clark College, Rosslare Arts International and the Greek community of Portland Oregon are bringing a three week festival to the city of Mytilene entitled THE AEGEAN VERDI FESTIVAL to be held as collaboration with the Municipality of Mytilene from June 10, 2006 to July 2, 2006.

This will be the fourth such international festival, with past events having been held in Florence, Arezzo, and Dublin. Participants in the festival will include a symphony orchestra from four nations, five professional musical artists from Lewis and Clark College, soloists from Greece, the U.S., Germany and Romania and a gathering of international scholars from numerous countries.

The festival will feature the first Greek performance of Verdi’s “Orietta di Lesbo”, whose world premiere historical revival performance of this work, which has not been performed since 1845, will have been presented by Lewis and Clark College in Portland, Oregon, three months earlier on March 12, 2006 with the Oregon Symphony Orchestra, combined choruses of Portland and visiting vocalists from the U.S. and Europe to be held on the campus at the Agnes Flanagan Chapel. The opera is historically significant not only for people of Greek heritage but to the larger musical world as well.

The festival will also include a symphonic concert featuring Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade, a performance of the Verdi Requiem, and between these concerts, the guest artists offer recitals and an international symposium on Verdi and the history of Lesbos to be conducted by Dr. Nora Beck of Lewis and Clark College. All concerts are offered at no cost to the public.

The mayor of Mytilene, Mr. Aris Hatzikomninos, has offered the Demotic Theater of Mytilene free of charge for the three week period in question, a gesture that has made THE AEGEAN VERDI FESTIVAL possible. Ioanna Karvelas, dramatic soprano, citizen of Lesbos, and founder of Opera Lesvos, is singing the role of Orietta. Her musicological research unearthed the libretto of the opera, missing since 1845, thus providing the inspiration that made THE AEGEAN VERDI FESTIVAL a reality.

About Orietta di Lesbo--the missing libretto

Lewis and Clark College has undertaken to present an opera by Verdi called "Orietta di Lesbo" on March 12, 2006 in the Agnes Flanagan Chapel with members of the Oregon Symphony and combined choruses with Dr. George Skipworth conducting and Ioanna Sfekas Karvelas in the title role. This performance will constitute a world premiere revival of a work that has not been performed since 1845.

A brief explanation of why this event is significant, not only to people of Greek heritage and especially to anyone from the island of Lesbos, but in general to the larger music world follows:

In 1845, Verdi wrote an opera, "Giovanna D'Arco" (Joan of Arc) inspired by a play written by Schiller. After its successful premiere at La Scala, he proceeded to prepare subsequent performances for the Teatro Argentina in Rome. However, the Pope and the Austrian censorship (the Italian states were under Austrian rule at that time) did not permit his opera to be played due to its controversial nature. A solution had to be found quickly, and the librettist, Solera, who knew from the great old Italian poets of a similar case of a legendary Lesbiot heroine donning male attire and armor and leading her fellow countrymen to victory on the battlefield, wrote a new libretto about this Lesbiot heroine called "Orietta" who could be the perfect substitute for Joan of Arc.

This heroine really existed. In 1450, when Lesbos was under the rule of the Gatelusi family of Genoa, she saved the Mytilene Castle from the Ottoman invaders and Lesbos remained free until 1462 when the Ottoman Empire finally succeeded in invading the island and occupying it until 1912. Panayiotis Paraskevaides is the historian who documents her existence from archival reports in the Vatican.

This is not a widely known fact in the Verdi history books, and extensive research and efforts were required to track down this libretto, since it was only played a few times in the Teatro Argentina in Rome, in 1845. Thereafter, it has always been played as "Giovanna D'Arco." Nevertheless, after many years of searching, the libretto was found, and a copy was sent to Dr. George Skipworth who presented it to Dr. Nora Beck, Chair of the Lewis and Clark College Music Department. Lewis and Clark, with its pioneering spirit, will revive this nearly lost gem.

In the summer of 2006, for the Aegean Verdi Festival, it will be played on the island of Lesbos. Thus, the name "Orietta" of Lesbos will take its rightful place along with that of Sappho and all the other great personages this island has produced. The general public, visitors, and operaphiles alike are invited to attend these performances.

All this began in the village of Vatoussa, Lesbos, where a small group of "operaphiles" and music lovers including Antony and Ioanna Karvelas and Bellissarius Economides began the search for this long-lost libretto. This libretto has the heroine die on the battlefield exactly as in Schiller's play. Verdi was moved by this version and did not depict Joan of Arc being burnt at the stake, nor did he concern himself with the issues of heresy or political conspiracies which usually attend this theme. A modern audience, however, prepared to see Joan of Arc cannot accept this poetic license without some disappointment. Therefore, perhaps, a libretto such as "Orietta" could do more justice to Verdi's concept of a simple village girl, rejected by her father, but achieving such heroic stature, dying on the battlefield, glorified by her compatriots, - than could the original libretto of "Giovanna D'Arco."

For more informationa about Dramatic Soprano Karvelas, her performances, or the "forgotten" Verdi libretto, see her website at the URL

HCS readers interested in music, particularly Greek music and instruments, see the Greek Music section of the HCS permanent, extensive archives at Music.

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