'The Master Builder' from Folksong to Opera: The Adaptation of 'The Bridge of Arta' by Nikos Kazantzakis and Manolis Kalomiris
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Manolis Kalomiris’ opera The Master Builder, first performed in 1916, was adapted from Nikos Kazantzakis’ play of the same name. Kazantzakis based his work on the Greek folksong in which, in order to complete a bridge, a master builder is ordered by a spirit to sacrifice his wife. Kazantzakis’ protagonist is a Nietzschean hero, distracted by his love for his employer’s daughter, Smaragda. While the play has features of ancient Greek tragedy, Kazantzakis suggests a contemporary relevance; his builders describe themselves as “the cranes which bring [...] the black swallows of the Springtime of the Mind”. In his libretto, aided by three poet friends, Kalomiris developed the lyrical element, but otherwise kept close to Kazantzakis’ text. He removed some misogynistic expressions, and focused upon Smaragda’s heroic devotion. Although Kalomiris dedicated his work, significantly, to Eleftherios Venizelos, whom he called “the Master Builder of Greater Greece”, his opera, like Kazantzakis’ play, transcends boundaries of time, place and cultural background.