The Swallow Song

REVIEW by Willard Manus

THE SWALLOW SONG, an original play commissioned by the Getty Museum, brings the power and timelessness of classical Greek drama and poetry to life for ninety incandescent moments. Directed by Lydia Koniordou (of the National Theatre of Greece), the play melds fragments from the plays of Euripides, Aeschylus and Sophocles with stanzas from Sappho, Homer, Pindar and Theognis into a seamless whole. Enhanced by the original music of Takis Farazis (played on ancient instruments) and by Dionysis Fotopoulos' simple but striking decor and costumes, THE SWALLOW SONG offers remarkable performances by its six main actors (Koniordou, Martha Frintzila, Nikos Karathanos, Christos Loulis, Tanya Papadopoulou and Georgia Tsangaraki), plus a chorus comprised of UCLA student-actors.

The linking theme is coming of age in ancient Greece, the loss of innocence and childhood, the joys and sorrows of love, the confrontation with evil and duplicity, the horror of war and fratricide. The forging of identity in the face of these overwhelming forces is the main challenge to humanity, Koniordou feels. "Do we become what we are, or are we born that way? Do we decide our lives ourselves, or have our lives already been decided upon?" she asks in a program note. "Are we able to see in order to face the truth about our lives--and, even more, to bear it?"

THE SWALLOW SONG (adapted by Koniordou and Theophanis Kakridis) also benefits greatly from its fresh, supple translation by Oliver Taplin, professor of Classics at Oxford University. Working in a variety of meters and forms, Taplin has produced a text that is rooted in the past but sounds contemporary without being anachronistic. The actors did not have to force themselves to speak their lines well and clearly, a common problem with awkwardly translated Greek drama.

THE SWALLOW SONG was mounted to coincide with the Getty's current main exhibition Coming of Age in Ancient Greece: Images of Childhood from the Classical Past, which runs through Dec. 5.

The Getty is located at 1200 Getty Center Drive in Brentwood. Call (310) 440-7360 or visit