Porphyra, a Grecian Rock Opera – Anna and Vladimir: The love that ROCKED the world
On May 3, 2015 New York City saw a premiere of a new rock opera, “Anna and Vladimir: The love that ROCKED the world,” harkening to ten century ties between Russia and Greece (back then, Rus and Byzantium). Premiering in New York City’s famous Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall, the rock opera talks about the love between St. Vladimir of Rus and his Greek wife, Anna Porphyrogenita of Byzantium. Incorporating rock and roll, dance, and theatrics, the aim of this independently sponsored production is not only to entertain, but to educate people on an era of history that gets little attention today, yet may be more relevant than ever before.
The concept of Vladimir and Anna emerged as US born Greek musician Vassilios Chrissochos penned an album with his band, Porphyra, titled “Faith, Struggle, Victory.” “My main interest has always been Alexander the Great, the Hellenistic Age, and Byzantium,” said Chrissochos. “I also had a childhood best friend in Greece who was Russian. Ever since Vladimir and Anna, Russia was essentially part of the Byzantine Commonwealth which peacefully coexisted and thrived together with Byzantium, as opposed to fighting each other.”
Chrissochos noted that Byzantium is not heavily promoted these days in academia, including in Greece, compared to other eras of Hellenic history: “It was the golden age for us. We thrived in theology, philosophy, and the arts. Byzantium and Alexander the Great, the era of monarchies that civilized the world, are bypassed in favor of classical and modern Greece, specifically because there are those that don’t want us to recreate that empire and civilization.”
Despite these biases, according to Chrissochos, the highest grossing exhibits at the famous Metropolitan Museum of Art related to both Alexander the Great and Byzantium, specifically the era of Emperor Basil the Second (of the Macedonian Dynasty) and brother of Anna Porphyrogenita, who fostered the alliance with Kievan Rus. “I wanted to create something inspiring. We are praising God and the empire, and talking about how this union started as well as what became of it,” said Chrissochos.
Teaming up with fellow Greek, Christos Alexandrou (born in Germany), the two began developing the idea into a musical production. Other collaborators include Greek-American theater actor and rock singer George Tsalikis, and a number of Americans such as Grammy and Emmy award winning director Donna McLaughlin Wyant, choreographer Dena Stevens and principal dancer Peishan Lo.
“The great thing about finding a relatable and universal story is that everyone will follow,” says Alexandrou. “The story of Anna and Vladimir reminds me of all the love stories that have become legendary: two people who in following their duty and destiny overcome their personal struggles and fears while finding true love. A princess and a prince, who, if no politics were involved, might never even meet, end up marrying each other in spite of all the differences, changing the course of history for two huge nations by uniting them.”
“The story of Anna and Vladimir, the Romeo and Juliet of the east, is being told through hard rock and metal, as well as Greek folk music” says Chrissochos.
“Thanks to Billy’s historical research, choreographer Dena Stevens, and the Greek American Folklore Society (GAFS) we managed to provide facts, information and “eye candy” too!” says Alexandrou. The combination of heavy metal with a strong ethnic Greek flavor, fostered by musical director Dimitris Lambrianos, as well as a visual feast including belly dancers, has helped the production find appeal with people of all backgrounds.
In brief, Porphyra will take the audience on an epic musical journey from the triumphs of Alexander the Great to the glories of Byzantium. The electric guitar, in joyous harmony with bouzouki and violin, sings the lives of the dreams and ambitions of two lovers who made their own fate and altered the course of history. The opera tells the story of Grand Prince Vladimir of Kievan Rus, the first Russian Empire, and Princess Anna Porphyrogenita of Constantinople, princess of Byzantium, the cultural beacon of the Mediterranean during Western Europe’s Dark Ages.
The year is 988AD. Emperor Basil II rules over Byzantium. His reign will usher in a second Golden Age for Greece. But, civil war threatens to destroy Constantinople from within. On the northern front, Russian Grand Prince Vladimir begins the unification of the Kievan Rus. Ambitious to attain more glory, he marches towards the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. Embattled by the Bulgarians, a civil war and other enemies, Basil dispatches his sister Anna to negotiate a treaty with Vladimir. A smitten Vladimir seeks truce only if he can marry the Porphyrogenita, a princess “born of the royal purple.” Anna refuses to marry a pagan barbarian. Unwaivered, Vladimir keeps his eyes on the prize, Princess Anna and the City of Gold. He sends his fabled six thousand strong Varangian Guard, to aid Basil in the civil wars. Most importantly, Vladimir converts his nation to Greek Orthodox Christianity in order to marry Anna.
But, will love be strong enough to overcome that which sword and shield cannot? Will Greece survive these unprecedented obstacles? This is the story of Anna and Vladimir.
The love that ROCKED the world!
You got the story now try to imagine the sound. If Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Rock of Ages and the Phantom of the Opera had a love child with Iron Maiden, Heart, Scorpions and Nightwish and dressed it up in Progressive Rock, Rembetika and traditional Greek and near Eastern folk garbs then you get Porphyra. It has a little of everything. It is a thrilling, historical, cultural journey through music, dance and theater. It is lovingly dedicated to the Peoples of Greece, who having passed the torch of civilization to the world, now need the support from all of us in these most troubling of times. It is time to remember those heroes and heroines that helped shape the world around us.
“Anna and Vladimir” was fortunate in that it was accepted to perform at Carnegie Hall, which does not usually accept rock opera pieces. “They liked the idea and they liked the music” said Chrissochos, which ended up giving the production a very prestigious opening venue that traditionally hosts top notch classical performers. The production, which is still being expanded in scope, is slated to continue performing in the New York area. A portion of the production was sponsored through a crowd funding campaign on Crowdzu, which included a significant amount of non Greek sponsors. “There are also many Christians involved,” said Chrissochos, “they appreciate the message we are putting across.”
As next year will be the year of Russia in Greece and the year of Greece in Russia, both Chrissochos and Alexandrou hope the production will make it to their respective countries. “We always wanted to go to Russia, Greece and Cyprus with this” says Chrissochos, “and last year, when the album was being recorded, was also the 1025th anniversary of Rus’s baptism.” Alexandrou adds: “The Greeks and Russians have always had close ties. We understand each other. We both have strong traditions, history and deep religious roots.”
Porphyra, a Grecian Rock Opera is part of a time travelling trilogy. Book One tells of the story of “Anna and Vladimir: The love that ROCKED the world.” Book Two takes us to the end of the empire in “Constantinople 1453: The Starmaker’s Prophecy.” And Book Three takes us even further back in time to the story of “Jason and Medea: Till death do us part…” Porphyra the band which is the main component of the musical company has already embarked on the beginning process of recording its follow up album. “There will be more songs that will go towards our current Rock Opera and material for the next chapter of the trilogy,” says Chrissochos. Further adding, “the merchandising and cross-over potential to film, TV, comics, books, touring productions and other mediums is pretty astounding if one thinks about it.”
So far we like what we hear but how can our readers get involved and help? Chrissochos responds “that the production is currently looking for sponsors and investors. This is a full-size production that profit can ultimately be made from the startup investment. We can provide a steady work opportunity for dozens of musicians, artists, actors, dancers and technicians. Greece and the world NEEDS something like this right now. So please take a few minutes to read our online digital flip booklet, download it, and share it with your friends and anyone that you think might get excited about this too. Learn how to support our effort. We are looking for investors who can help take the full production Broadway bound.” You can follow Porphyra on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. Sign up for Porphyra’s mailing list to be kept abreast of all their news, download the illustrated Rock Opera brochure and see the promotional video only at porphyraband.com.