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Musical comedy- Athenian review- Athenian song- Operetta

In the first decades following the foundation of the New Greek Republic, music life revolves around two different levels. On one hand, traditional folk music continues to evolve in rural parts of the country and on the other hand, European music companies often perform in the emerging urban centers. Thus, the rising bourgeoisie make their first contact with European music culture. The first efforts to create indigenous music and theatrical productions, as well as the desire for Europeanization will lead to the creation of  Musical comedy, Athenian review, Athenian song and operetta.
It' s worth mentioning that three out of four kinds combine music and theatre. The lack of storage and reproduction technology for sound transforms the theatre into a vehicle of music diffusion, since a large part of the audience goes to the theatre to listen to the music.

Musical comedy

The content of musical comedy is usually characterial or moral. It flourished around 1890 and established after the "ruthless" imitation of the respecting European productions. Every play could include fifteen, twenty or more songs, according to its length. These songs were written on the Italian and French norms, while in most cases musicians did not hesitate to perform the most popular and cherished tunes of the European lyric theatre of the time, unchanged.

However, this behavior is antedated by the Greek urban public who, in an effort to appropriate European entertainment, improvised by setting Greek lyrics on popular melodies played by the visiting foreign companies.

We should mention at this point that the final formation of musical comedy was greatly influenced by Armenian operetta. In 1883, a company from Constantinople performed at the Europeanized coast of Palaio Faliro plays like "Leplepitzis Chor-chor Agas", "Kiose-Kechagias" etc., offering the local theatrical writers and musicians instruction as to how you can combine western orchestras with eastern type melodies, theme and comedy ( Chor – chor Agas).
Well known musical comedies, who are still performed in various versions, are:
"H tychi tis Maroulas", 1889 (Maroula's fortune). Text by Dimitrios  Koromilas, lyrics by, Dimitrios Kokkos and music by Andreas Shyler.
"O Barba Linardos", 1890 (Old man Linardos). Text and music by Dimitrios Kokkos, music by Andreas Shyler.
"I Lyra tou Geronicola" (The lyra of old man Nikolas). Lyrics and music by Dimitrios Kokkos. "Kapetan Giakoumis" (Captain Giakoumis). Lyrics and music by Dimitrios Kokkos.
"O genikos gramatefs", 1892 (The secretary general). Text by Ilias Kapetanakis and music by Loudovikos Spinelis, etc.

Athenian review

In the 1890s, musical comedy shows signs of fatigue. At that time, the review appears; a new kind of theatrical play which inherits the European orientation of musical comedy, but transforms it into a form more fit for its purpose. An important difference between the two kinds of plays is that in musical comedy the whole performance is a play with a beginning, a middle part and an ending, while the review is a sectional performance of autonomous theatrical sketches, called acts.

In this new type of theatrical plays, music is of equal if not larger significance than the text. Most of the audience considered the music as more important than the performance itself and it wasn't accidental that while the texts remained unpublished, the music scores of the songs in them were published and widely circulated. These songs are responsible for the great success of reviews and the reason why people watch the same performance several times. Records from the beginning of the 20th century speak of an audience so enthusiastic that the actors had to repeat a single song as many as twelve times!
The first review in Athens was "Ligo ap' ola" (A little of everything) by Mikios Labros in 1894. Following a twelve-year silence, it reappeared in the beginning of the 20th century and survived, through periods of prosperity and decline, to this day.

Initially, the review followed the practice of music comedy and set Greek lyrics on melodies from European operettas. This kind of reproduction not only was it not considered dishonorable, but furthermore it was good publicity for the show. Few musicians bothered with transcribing or altering the melody. Most used it in its original version and several musicians and authors were in favor of using the melodies unchanged in Greek plays. Among them was also Grigorios Xenopoulos who believed that the transcription would distort the character and personality of the music.

The public desire for popular European melodies was so great that kleon Triantafyllou, known as Attik, whose music was characterized by originality and his own personal style, did not succeed in review.
Many musicians contributed to the formation or music in reviews, like Angelos Martino, Antonis Vottis, Grigoris Konstantinidis, etc. Theofrastos Sakellaridis holds a special place among them. While he proved to be an expert of reproduction in his first steps in review, he later on showed his talent as a composer and produced some of the most beautiful songs written in Greek review.

Annual reviews like the “Panathineans”, the “Papagalos” (parrot), the “Kinimatographos” (cinema) etc. left behind a great number of songs whose residues are evident today. One of these songs is "ego eimai i nea gynaika" (I am the new woman), from the 1908 Panathineans. It is signed by Theofrastos Sakellaridis but the original melody belongs to an Italian song called "Birbantella".


During the interwar period, review's music is written by composers like Sosos Ioannidis, Kostas Giannidis, Grigoris Konstantinidis, Antonis Vottis, etc. and performed by significant comedy actors such as Petros Kyriakos, Kyriakos Mavreas, Nitsa Lazaridou etc. The review draws its themes out of the political and social life, while people's characters are satirized.

After the war, the review prospered again. New composers add to the older ones like Mimis Plessas and Giorgos Katsaros, while occasionally Manolis Chiotis, Manos Hadjidakis and others, write music for reviews. Some of the significant actors in review at the time were Georgia Vasiliadou, Sperantza Vrana, Giannis Gionakis, Christos Efthimiou, Takis Miliadis, Marika Nezer and others.


The operetta had already made its appearance in Greek audiences from the 1870s, when French and Italian operetta companies performed in Greece. This kind becomes particularly popular for it intensifies the effort towards Europeanization in an entertaining and pleasant way.
Therefore, when Athenian review shows the first signs of decadence, a new effort begins to cultivate this kind "internally" with Greek productions. The initial effort is made in 1908, when impresario Antonios Nikas produces Herve's operetta "Mam'zelle Nitouche" with orchestra director Theofrastos Sakellaridis. The play constituted a starting point for Greek operetta, since Sakellaridis himself in 1913 abandons the review to devote himself completely to the operetta, carrying along several other composers. The first Greek operettas are truly revolutionary because they abandon the practice of music piracy common in the reviews, to the benefit of original European music creation by Greek composers. Thus starts a period of creative production and assimilation of the European musical idiom in Greece.
The time period between 1916 and 1928 is a time of triumph for the Greek operetta. Its content is cheerful, easy to understand, funny, with happy endings and easy- to- sing melodies, which offer entertainment.
The songs produced, immediately become popular. They are published and circulated in music scores that can be found in most houses of the urban areas where there is a piano. Through the operetta the Greek public has learned to seek original music and not tasteless replicas of foreign hits.

Theofrastos Sakellaridis is considered the father of Greek operetta. He wrote cheerful and romantic melodies and did not hesitate to add, where he thought necessary, melodies on motifs borrowed from Greek and oriental music tradition. The first operetta he wrote after leaving the annual review "Panathinea" in 1914, was "Sta Parapigmata" (In the Barracks), followed by "Pic-nic" in 1915, "I despinis Tip-Top" (Miss Tip-Top) in 1916, "O Hypnovatis" (The sleepwalker) in 1917, his greatest success, played to this day, "O Vaftistikos" (The godchild) in 1918, "Thelo na ido ton Papa" (I want to see the Priest), "Kapetan Tsanakas" (Captain Tsanakas) in 1922, "Ta monterna koritsia" (Modern girls) in 1935 etc.


Nikos Hadjiapostolou, the second and equally significant operetta composer appeared in 1916 with his play "Moderna Kamariera" (Modern Maid) which was a big success, followed by "I erotevmeni" (The love-sick) in 1919, "I Apachides ton Athinon" (The apaches of Athens) in 1921 which contained the well known song "I retsina mou" (My retsina); a reference to the songs of wine, especially loved in that time period, showing the composer's tendency to adopt a more folk-like type, "To koritsi tis gitonias" (The neighborhood girl) in 1922, "I gynaika tou dromou" (The tramp) 1924, etc.

During the same period, Spyros Samaras writes his operettas "Polemos en polemo" (War inside war) in 1914, "I prigipisa tis Sasonos" (The princess of Sasson) and "I Kritikopoula" (The girl from Crete) in 1916.
Other composers who wrote operettas are: Dionysios Lavragas, Napoleon Labelet, Kleon Triantafyllou or Attik, Kostas Giannidis, and others.


Athenian song

Initial efforts to acquire a repertoire of songs in urban areas of the New Greek Republic, are dated several years before the musical comedy, review and operetta. In 1860s and 1870s Athens, many poems written by poets like Aristotelis Valaoritis, Achileas Paraschos, Alexandros Ragavis, and others were set in melodies borrowed from Italian arias or German marching songs.

This practice faded when, in late 19th century, some professionals or amateur musicians dared to set texts by the romantic poets of that period into their own western type but relatively original melodies, thus creating the first Greek songs which constitute the so called Athenian song. These songs are created and function independently and not within the frame of a theatrical performance (see sections on Musical comedy, Athenian review, Operetta).
The Athenian song is created parallel to the Athenian serenade. The two kinds have strong influences from the Italian bel canto and the serenade of the Ionian Islands and in many occasions share the same composers. The Athenian song constitutes a form of canzonet, sometimes romantic and sometimes cheerful, accompanied by the piano or the guitar and usually performed as a solo or duet (primo- secondo), while the serenade is polyphonic, accompanied by mandolin and guitars.
The Athenian song was served by Christos Strouboulis, Nikolaos Kokkinos,Nikos Xatziapostolou- a composer who wrote many successful operettas and also served the Athenian song by writing classic cherished songs, Dimitrios Rhodios, Timos Xantopoulos, and others.

During the same period, in the early 20th century, there exists a composer whose case is unique, and must be examined separately. His name is Kleon Triantafyllou, commonly known as Attik. Clearly ahead of his time, characterized by a mature and full musical language, he studied his works. He always wrote the lyrics in his songs, so special that we can rightfully call him a poet and composer. Attik's activity stretches as far as the end of the German Occupation, after which he died.

Useful links

Historical facts on the Operetta

Opera and Operetta
Webside containing texts writen by sixth grade elementary school students from the Psychiko College, with a section on "short light operas, called operettas" and "The musical comedies of the 20th century (musicals) originated from the operettas of the 19th century".

The first Operetta at the National Opera
In the History of the National Opera it is mentioned that its first performing act was Strauss' "Die Fledermaus" on March 5th, 1940.

Operetta and songs on wine
In the introductory section of this website on rebetiko you can also find information on the operetta, which reached its peak in the twelve years between 1916-1928, and its related "wine songs".

Operetta and feminist songs
On this website, dedicated to "Woman's day", it is mentioned that the first feminist song was written in 1908 for Theofrastos Sakellaridis' operetta and performed by Sotiria Iatridi, a diva of that time.

Presentations of performances

Greek plays at the National Opera
A text by Asteria Samouelian, curator of the National Opera Historical Archive, where the Greek plays performed at the National Opera after 1942, many of which were operettas, are listed in chronological order.

References to old Greek operettas
at Charalambos Andrikopoulos' website.

Photograph from "I gynaika tou dromou" (The tramp)
A photograph in jpg format from Nikos Hadjiapostolou's "I gynaika tou dromou" (The tramp, 1924), performed by the theatre department of the "Anagnostirio of Agiasos" (Cultural organization of Agiasos, Lesvos) in 1970.

"Oi Apachides ton Athinon" (The Apaches of Athens) (1930)
The Gaziadis brothers'  film based on Nikos Hadjiapostolou's operetta "Oi Apachides ton Athinon" (The Apaches of Athens), repeating the succesful "Astero" music "experiment".


Callas' operetta debute
In a survey conducted for the "Eleftherotypia" newspaper on "the Greek of the century", it is mentioned that Maria Callas' debute performance at the National Opera in November 1940 was on Franz von Suppé's "Boccaccio".

Dimitris Michailidis - contribution to the operetta
At the Athens Concert Hall website - The curriculum vitae of pianist, composer and conductor Dimitris Michailidis, who mainly worked with the National Opera and was specialized in operetta and directed "a vast operetta repertoire and from 1957 a mixed opera and operetta repertoire in all theatrical periods (1943-1973 and 1984-1986)".

Zachos Terzakis - tenor
The operetta repertoire of tenor Zachos Terzakis on his website.


Old Greek songs - Operettas
A database searchable by composer, performer, lyricist, song title. For some of the songs, the lyrics are also available.