- Greek-Australian Odysseys in a Multicultural World
IHOS Opera (“Ihos” means “sound” in Greek) was founded in 1990 by composer Constantine Koukias and Werner Ihlenfeld in Hobart where they staged Days and Nights With Christ, Koukias’s first operatic piece. American visual artist Ann Wulff joined them for the work’s presentation at the Festival of Sydney in 1992. To Traverse Water was mounted in 1992 at the Abel Tasman Festival in Hobart. The work was then performed in 1995 in an enormous unused wharf at the Greek Festival of Sydney, where it was bought instantly for the 1995 Melbourne Festival. MIKROVION, Small Life, an epic opera on AIDS, was sung in concert in one of Hobart’s main wharves in 1994. It is now being prepared for a full stage version.
The site of performance is crucial to IHOS operas in that they are conceived for immense spaces. In other words, performing site and space, performance form—musical and theatrical—and performative process (instrumental, choral, visual and of movement) are totally interdependent. IHOS operas have a ceremonial aura about them, which is enhanced by the pilgrimage spectators have to make to see them. This is a continuation of the sacred journeys, the journeys of devotion, established in the nineteen sixties and seventies. Think of Robert Wilson drawing audiences to Shiraz, or of Ariane Mnouchkine creating something of a shrine at the Cartoucherie de Vincennes in Paris. Or take Peter Brook at Persepolis, in stone quarries outside Avignon, and, for that matter, outside Perth and Adelaide when his company performed in Australia.
For all their ceremonial atmosphere, though, operas by Koukias are rooted in his profane experiences as an Australian-born son of Greek immigrants to Australia. It is not that Koukias wishes to present “the immigrant experience” to a country increasingly aware of its multicultural population and of the issues of ethnic and cultural difference, injustice and exclusion involved in any multicultural situation today. He aims for something far more straightforward, which is a group of vocal and visual images inspired by autobiographical [End Page 64] moments, but that he lets free. In their release through the various forms they adopt in his operas, these autobiographical sources take on not so much an impersonal or even “universal” significance as a collective one, the particular actions performed acquiring a wider, general frame of reference. This is true even of Days and Nights with Christ, which has intensely personal meaning for the composer since its principal character, a schizophrenic, is modeled on Koukias’s schizophrenic brother. It is all the more true of To Traverse Water which concerns a young Greek woman’s departure for Australia and her settlement there. Her tale is loosely based on that of Koukias’s mother. Direct reference is made to his mother at the end of the show when a slide of her appears, along with a tape of her voice intoning an old village song. Spectators are not told who this aging woman is. But then they do not really need to know since she is an archetype and her story so like the story of countless women of non-English speaking background coming to Australia.
Days and Nights with Christ is for four solo singers, who sing in Greek, and a dancer—Christ—whose movements, although choreographed, are not obviously “dancey.” A battery of musicians, electro-acoustic instruments, winds and brass stand on a podium close to the audience. Placed in this way, they enter the circuit of energy binding spectators and performers. The spectators are seated in tiers opposite each other, mirroring each other, as the Christ figure between and below them mirrors them all. Despite the seemingly endless space which the production as a whole occupies, the work generates an extraordinary degree of intimacy, due in large part to the way emotion is deeply internalized in it, this introversion working very subtly on the spectators’ feelings and perceptions. Christ, too, turns the agony of his schizophrenia inwards towards himself under the gaze of the spectators who are given two focal points, a close-up and a...