The Greek National Opera is the only lyric theatre of Greece, established
in 1939 as a part of the then called Royal Theatre, which matured during
the years of the occupation of Greece by the German forces. In particular
during that period the Greek National Opera was one of the very small free
voices left in our enslaved country and since the year 1944 the Greek National
Opera operates as an autonomous organisation.
The establishment of the Greek National Opera was based on the Greek Opera House and is considered as part of its continuation. At first it was established by Napoleon Lambelet, Dionyssios Lavrangas and by a group of inspired musicians. During the year 1888, the first Greek Opera was presented at the old Theatre of Bukura with the play "The Candidate Parliamentarian" by Spyros Xyndas. Between 1888 and 1890 the Greek opera House toured all over the centres of the Greek immigrants of Egypt, Russia, Turkey and Rumania, presenting plays like : "The Candidate Parliamentarian" by Spyros Xyndas "The abduction from the Seraglio" by W. A. Mozart, "Markos Botsaris" by Paul Carrer, "La Favorita" and "Lucia Di Lamermoor" by G. Donizetti and "The Sleepwalker" by V. Bellini.
During the year 1924 the Greek Opera House toured all over the United States, with great success and with plays that drew good houses. During that period lyric singers made a brilliant career in New York.The Greek Opera House, inspite of its enormous economic and many other problems that had to be confronted, it has survived during a period of more than 40 years and in the meantime it offered its valuable services to the cultural life of the country and the various centres of the Greek immigrants around the world, up to the moment that the Greek state acknowledged the valuable services rendered by the Greek Opera House by promoting the theatrical arts in Greece and decided to give authority to this kind of effort. During the year 1939 the Greek National Opera was established under the management of Kostis Bastias, who was a dynamic manager and remained at this post more than 25 years helping in many ways the Lyric Theatre of this country.
The first performance presented by the Greek National Opera was on March 5, 1940 with the operetta "Bat" by J. Strauss. Many other operettas followed and "Butterfly" by G. Puccini had its opening night two days before the declaration of war by the Italians, in the presence of the Ambassadors of many countries, amongst them was present also the ambassador of Italy and the son of G. Puccini himself.Many famous names of the lyric singers participated in performances presented by the Greek National Opera, who later on became famous abroad. Among them was Giannis Angelopoulos, whom the Italian Press characterised as the first "Rigoletto" of the world.
Also Zoi Vlahopoulou, known as the "Butterfly" of the period of war, because she sang the part of Madame Butterfly the day the war was declared. There were also many others, such as Odysseas Lappas, Titos Xirellis, Giorgos Kokolios, Nikos Moschonas, Margarita Perra, Petros Epitropakis, Konstantinos Egolfopoulos, Helana Suliotis, Helen Vlahopoulos, Evangelos Magliveras, Antonios Delendas and some new ones like Kostas Paskalis, Nikola Zacharia, Tatianoa Troyanos, Antigoni Sgourda, Vassilis Giannoulakos, Dimitris Kavrakos, Kiki Morfoniou, Luis Manikas, Giorgos Pappas, John Modenos, Zanet Pilou, Daphne Evangelatos and many others. Certainly the most important of them all is Maria Callas, who signed the first professional contract with the Greek National Opera on June 20, 1940. Some twenty years later she came back here to sign a new contract, again with Kostas Bastias, for performances of the Greek National Opera at the ancient Theatre of Epidaurus.
In the year 1960 she interpreted "Norma" by V. Bellini and in the year 1961 she interpreted « Medea » by L. Cherubini.However the presence of the Greek National Opera at the Athens Festival is significant every year and especially since 1955 when this festival first opened its gates. The Greek National opera is preparing splendid performances which will take place at the Herodion Ancient Theatre. During these performances this Roman amphitheatre is swarmed by lots of people. At the first festival in 1955 The Greek National Opera presented the opera "Orfeo ed Euridice" by CH. W. V.Gluck, under the conduction of Filoktitis Economidis.
The presentation of G. Verdi's "Otello" in 1965, under the conduction of Andreas Paridis, with actors like Tito Gobbi, John Vickers and Marcella Pobbe which drew the enthusiastic attention of the International Press. The same thing happened with the presentation of "Aida" in the same year and with the same conductor and with actors Carlo Bergonzi and Vassilis Giannoulakos.Among the best productions at the Herodion Ancient Theatre are also the recent performances of « Tosca » which marked the return of Kostas Paskalis to the lyric songs like "Nabucco", "Aida", "Faust", "Turandot" and many others.The Greek National Opera has worked also in collaboration with other famous foreign artists, such as Tulio Serafin, Nicola Rescigno, Franco Kapuana, famous singers, like Ghena Dimitrova, Maria Chiara, Giuseppe Giacomini, Bruno Prevedi, Leoni Rysanek, Nicolae Herlea, Nicolai Ghiuselev, Piero Capuccili, Aldo Protti, Matteo Manuguerra, Vladimir Atlantof, Tamara Milaskina, Giuseppe Taddei, Rolando Panerai, Paata Burchuladze, Kurt Rydl famous directors and set designers like Margarita Wallmann, Giancarlo Menotti, Dinos Giannopoulos, Spyros Evangelatos, Nikos Georgiadis, Dionyssios Fotopoulos, Nikos Petropoulos.
During the years of its function the Greek National Opera has presented all the great operas of the classic repertory and some productions of the contemporary composers and is demonstrating a special sensitivity towards the Greek plays.However, significant work of high artistic standard has been performed also by the chorus of the Greek National Opera, which has been established in 1939 and it is composed of professional singers. Its extensive repertory covers four centuries of operatic creativity of Greek composers, operettas, oratorios and many other works of religious music, as well as musical works of the twentieth century. The teaching of these musical works has been undertaken in chronological order, by Elli Nicolaidou, Mihalis Vourtsis, Petros Tzaferis and Fani Palamidi.
The neuralgic part of the Greek National Opera is its own ballet, of which, apart from its participation to operas and operettas, it has at least two autonomous "Evening Ballets" every winter, and one at the Athens Festival during the summer. The first "Evening Ballet" has been presented during the year 1960. Since then many plays have been presented, not only of classical and romantic repertory, but also from the space of contemporary dancing of Greek and foreign professionals.