Having opened last week with a performance by the Hungarian chamber orchestra Artemisia, the festival’s first week also marked a first for Mersin audiences: A ballet production based on “Zorba the Greek,” with a score by famed Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis, was staged in Mersin for the first time.
The ballet has been performed in 35 countries around the world. Its Mersin production, an effort by the Mersin State Opera and Ballet company, filled the entire Mersin Cultural Center to capacity. For those who have not seen the 1964 big screen classic starring Anthony Quinn, or read the famous novel of the same name on which it was based by Nikos Kazantzakis, the story revolves around a half-English, half-Greek writer named John who travels to a small town in Crete, where he falls in love with a young woman called Marina. However, the townsfolk, keen on preserving their customs, are against the relationship. When Marina is killed, John is saved by the gregarious Alexis Zorba.
The ballet’s finale, which features a famous sirtaki scene, also known as “Zorba’s dance,” drew a truly lengthy ovation of 20 minutes from the audience, prompting the ensemble to stage three encores. Regular festival-goers agreed following the performance that they had not seen such enthusiasm from an audience since the opening of the festival a few days earlier on April 30.
Set to run through to May 18, this year’s festival will present a total of 23 events, 10 of which offer free admission. With former State Opera and Ballet Director General Remzi Buharalı as its artistic director, the festival this year hosts acts from a diverse selection of countries, ranging from Hungary and Germany to Portugal, Moldova and the United States. Venues hosting the festival include the Italian Catholic Church, the ancient site of Soloi Pompeiopolis and the Tarsus Saint Paul Museum, among others.
Fretless guitar genius Cenk Erdoğan and his trio took to the stage on Monday, while Tuesday saw a performance that blended witty humor with classical music from the Polish quartet MozART.
The voice of Anatolia is also represented in the multicultural lineup: On Wednesday, a group called Anadolu’nun Sesi, which literally means the Voice of Anatolia, is set to present their unique blend of Turkish folk songs with opera at the Mersin Cultural Center.
Another Turkish-based ensemble, the Arkas Trio, formed by classical instrumentalists Tuncay Yılmaz, Emre Elivar and Gustav Rivinius, will be onstage Thursday evening at the Italian Catholic Church to present a feast of classical music. Fado singer Cristina Branco is set for a concert on Friday evening at the Mersin Cultural Center.
The Ankara-based Bilkent Symphony Orchestra, featuring Hungarian cellist László Fenyö as soloist; Turkish instrumental trio Tanini; and Polish jazz musician Artur Dutkiewicz are other acts on the program.
The festival will close with a concert by American dramatic soprano Michele Crider. For more information, see www.merfest.org.tr.