Samuel Gomez visited Irene Papas' theater staging of Euripides' "Las Troyanas" play in Sagunto, Spain in 2001. Vangelis composed the original music.
It's not easy to define "Las Troyanas" (The Trojan Women), the version of Euripides' play carried out by Irene Papas. What is clear is that this stunning performance, which took place in Sagunto (Valencia, Spain) in September, 2001 goes beyond the normal boundaries of theater into what could be called a "full scenic event" mixing without prejudice arts (music by Vangelis, orthodox drama, traditional chants from Valencia…) and sciences (new technologies by the cyberpunkish group la Fura dels Baus, famous for their show about the Mediterranean Sea in the '92 Olympic games opening ceremony, together with architecture and engineering represented by Santiago Calatrava's impressive scenography: fifteen 20-metre tall iron tubes that could move resembling in turn a huge organ, hi-tech columns or threatening cannons. By the way, Calatrava, a well-known Valencian architect, will probably design the Olympic stadium for Athens 2004 games, and according to papers, Papas was the person who put the architect in touch with Greek authorities). More famous names: Sofía, the Queen of Spain (Greek, and personal friend of Irene) attended the premiere. But the surprises about this play don't finish there. The "location" (no, here we can't speak of a simple theatre) chosen by Papas is also absolutely original: instead of using the Roman amphitheatre Sagunto has got, she preferred an abandoned warehouse (crumbling walls, broken window panes…) in the decaying industrial port of the town: where else to better express the message of destruction after war, one of the main topics in the play? And finally the time of the performance was also very well thought: 22.30 pm, that is, totally by night, because then, the industrial port that during the day looks rather dull becomes a neogothic setting (huge chimneys spreading reddish smoke, factories lit in the night and gloomy warehouses) that Ridley Scott could have used no problem for Blade Runner.
Maybe that is the reason why Vangelis has somehow revisited his magnificent score for Scott's film in Las Troyanas. The music became present right at the entrance of the building, in a theme that reminded me of a restrained version of the Blade Runner opening titles without all the (wonderful) electronic paraphernalia and with the "tune" in "Dawn" , first track of "The City" (afterwards the theme was repeated several times in the play) giving the hint of the rest of this score: threatening, intriguing layers with occasional "blows" of sound (typical also of BR), all that mixing very well with the "Cant d'Estil" (traditional chants from the Valencia region), with the soft voices of the Generalitat Valenciana Chorus and with Papas' lament speeches (the nearest reference was then "Rapsodies"). No melodies or "hit tunes" (this is not a concert), but the music does become protagonist of the play in some moments (for example at the wonderful beginning) and as usual, is a perfect accompaniment to the eternal (and timely) topics in Euripides' play: despair after war, honor, revenge... expressed by a group of widows led by Hecuba (Papas) who have lost their husbands in the war of Troya. The anecdote about Vangelis' score came right before the beginning of the play while the audience were taking their seats and when the "main theme" had already introduced us into the gloomy atmosphere at the entrance of the building. A drop began then to sound very clearly. At first I thought it was natural: it had rained cats and dogs that evening, the roof of the building was not in the best condition and on the surface of the stage (in shadows still) there seemed to be water. But soon I began to suspect: the sound was too perfect and regular. And probably lots of people in the audience began to feel as intrigued as myself, because after a few minutes of typical hustle they began to settle down and listen carefully.... Tears in rain?
Finally, just a few words on the person behind all this, Irene Papas. I won't linger on the evident facts we all know by now: that she fills the stage with her presence, and that her moving laments are simply spine-chilling, Really it's her unsophisticated attitude towards all this that surprises me (in interviews, in the way she acts or receives the applause in the end of the play): it seems to me that far from being the typical unbearable "diva" (she could with her CV), she considers acting just as any other job, and I like that. Some reviews (positive in general) have commented as a flaw of the play that her efforts to speak good Spanish were "too evident". Intelligent remark, taking into account she is not Spanish. For me that daring effort (theatre acting in a foreign language) is by itself praiseworthy, and not only that particular effort, the whole project that took two years and 150 people to prepare and gathered top figures in different fields, including the idea of setting up an academy of theatre in the port of Sagunto (in the same warehouse where "Las Troyanas" was performed, in that urban desert) is absolutely impressive, especially taking into account she is 73. Another reviewer comments that the "special effects" prevent the audience from focusing on the plot. Wrong approach, I think. More than aiming at our intellectual side, the play wants to convey feelings on certain timeless topics using all kinds of theatrical and off-theatrical means. And certainly it succeeds in doing it. "Las Troyanas" cannot just be judged on conventional theatre terms, it's much more than a play, and that is what makes it so special, rich and exciting.
By Samuel Gomez