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George Christy 04-09-2010

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Music filled the April air at the annual afternoon garden party hosted by Fox’s Ann and Jim Gianopulos in celebration of Greek Easter, which this year arrived on the same day that the Greeks refer to as “the Western Easter.”    Adhering to the Julian calendar, Greek Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after Passover.  The “Western Easter,” so called, is dictated by the Gregorian calendar.
For centuries, Easter’s remained a revered holiday for Greek communities, with outdoor church processions, led by archbishops, bishops, priests and worshippers carrying lighted candles and chanting ancient Byzantine lamentations.   Not only in mainland Greece and the islands but throughout all continents, these ceremonies are beloved by Greek Orthodox congregations.  

Spring is that ideal season to visit Greece, and experience these richly memorable moments.  As we have during these past years in Athens, and on the islands of Santorini, Cyprus and Corfu, surrounded, as they are, by Homer’s “wine dark seas.”   Legend has it that during the Lenten season preceding the Easter holiday, many wives, respectful of the Crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, prefer celibacy through these weeks.  Not surprisingly, then, that nine months after Easter, the Greek birth rate rises measurably.

Every year, Tom Hanks celebrates the holiday with song at the Gianopulos fete.  Tom is wed to actress-producer Rita Wilson (producer of  My Big Fat Greek Wedding), and he’s converted to her Greek Orthodox religion.  They are raising their two sons, Chet and Truman, in the faith.   Tom and Rita married in 1988 at the majestic Saint Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral, built in 1952 by those 20th Century Fox tycoons, Spyros, George and Charlie Skouras.  At Normandie and Pico Boulevards, the area, now bordering Koreatown, was gentrified at the time.  (Spyros  frequently revealed that he began life as “a poor shepherd boy.”)  

 With its soaring ceiling, 17 crystal chandeliers, 12 towering stained glass windows, marble, gold and bronze altar and pulpit, the Cathedral is a protected Los Angeles landmark.  Sightseers traverse the world to visit ecclesiastical edifices such as this, and here’s a spectacular church in the midst of our city.

Channeling the Blues Brothers by donning a fedora and dark shades (remember the film with Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi?) Tom, by mid-afternoon always croons an improvised blues melody to the spirit of Christos Anesti (Christ Has Risen), accompanied by the bouzouki band of Nondas Evangelados.  Tom was followed by CSI:NY’s Melina Kanakaredes singing an island song, Maria in the Yellow Dress (the lyrics ask Maria: who do you love more, your husband or your boyfriend?).   In mellifluous voice, Father John Bakas, dean of the Saint Sophia Cathedral, sang island favorites.

Lively Greek dancing soon started, with Lilly Reeves, the schoolteacher sister of Rita Wilson leading the way, as Inna Poncher of Poko Caterers served buffets of lamb and Mediterranean specialties.   Following a long-ago tradition, guests cracked red-colored hard-boiled eggs, one a-top the other, to see whose egg was unbreakable.

We sat with Mariana and Dean Metropoulos and their sons Evan and Darren, who live between Greenwich, CT, and Los Angeles – Evan recently bought a Hugh Hefner residence.  He and Darren and dad Dean are hugely successful financiers.   Mariana recently landed Shashi Kapour as the director of the action movie she’s producing about the 1821 Greek Revolution.    The screenplay’s completed about this true mesmerizing tale of a woman warrior, temporarily titled Daughter of Destiny, with Mariana imagining Javier Bardem and Christian Bale in the cast — “with hopes of Penelope Cruz.”

Greeting the guests with Ann and Jim were their beautiful blonde daughters Alexia and Nicoletta.    Jim’s sibling, Despina Gianopulos Landers, her music executive husband Jay, and brother Peter Gianopulos welcomed Nia Vardalos and mate Ian Gomez.  In the crowd were Jim’s assistant Dawn Knepley; Christina and Tony Thomopoulos; Tony’s son Dennis, who’s carved out a fine career in animation; Days of Our Lives’ John Aniston, who was born in Crete, and whose sexy daughter we all know; Arianna Huffington with sister Agapi; Dino Conti; Corinna Fields with granddaughter  Petra; Woodstock star Dimitri Martin; Ruth and Alex Berliner; Billy Zane; George Kulukundis of the shipping dynasty who flew in from Athens and is the godfather of Alexia.  

Jim Gianopulos was congratulated on Fox’s blockbuster success of Avatar.   While Avatar director Jim Cameron, on occasion, joins the festivities, he had flown to Brazil about an environmental issue, before heading to Bali for a brief vacation.  Jim Cameron’s Titanic continues to make box-office waves, and word surfaces that a Titanic DVD in 3-D is likely.

A cultural triumph for Los Angeles at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion this week was the LA Opera’s premiere of Gotterdammerung (The Twilight of the Gods), described as the Mount Everest of operas.    Gotterdammerung is the five-hour-plus (!) finale of Richard Wagner’s four operas from Der Ring Des Nibelungen that has impassioned operaphiles for centuries. 

Having mastered the Wagnerian challenge from his years in Paris and Cologne, James Conlon conducted with heroic authority.   Ten years ago, the versatile and provocative artist, Achim Freyer, then 65, was invited by the late Edgar Baitzel, the LA Opera’s COO, to direct and design these four Wagnerian masterworks based on Norse myths of gold, gods and satanic curses.   Strengthened by the LA Opera’s budget of millions, Freyer’s created exhilarating theater inspired by the abstract art and visual vocabulary of our time, including 3-D influences, kaleidoscopic screens, masks, neon art, contemporary puppetry.

The timeless love story between Brunnhilde and Siegfried in the Freyer production has the rapturous California-born soprano Linda Watson inhabiting the grand role of Brunnhilde, and heldertenor John Trevealon  commandingly appearing as her lover Siegfried.  Scene-stealing Eric Halfvarson seethes with malevolent gusto as the bastardly Hagen.   Four more performances are scheduled for this month, with a city-wide, ten-week Ring festival involving 115 arts participants beginning April 15.

At an intimate reception afterward, LA Opera’s artistic director Placido Domingo hailed the glorious performances before introducing the artists to benefactors Lennie and Bernie Greenberg, Dr. Harold Karpman, psychologist Dr. Ellen Basian, board chair Marc Stern, Carol and Warner Henry, Christina Baitzel, Barbara and Zev Yaroslavsky.    Acknowledged as prime supporters of the Ring cycle are Eli and Edythe Broad, along with underwriters Mark Houston Dalzell and Lawrence Kern.

Wagner premiered Gotterdammerung at Bayreuth in 1876, and at a Bayreuth performance “sometime during the 1980s,” with Pierre Boulez conducting the Patrice Chereau production, Pat and Michael York remember being overwhelmed by the 101 curtain calls that lasted an hour and a half!

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