Catching Shows in Greece’s Ancient Theaters

The Athens and Epidaurus Festival is the perfect opportunity to watch a concert or a play at one of the world-famous ancient amphitheaters of Greece.

If you studied the history of theater in school, you may have fantasized about what it might have been like to watch a play in the amphitheaters of ancient Greece. During the Athens & Epidaurus Festival, which runs from the beginning of June through August, you have numerous opportunities to do just that.

The festival has been an annual event since 1955, and it’s been taking place at ancient venues from the very start. Hosting mostly large ensembles and famous soloists in the past, it has slowly evolved into a world famous festival featuring big names as well as new ones, and a wide range of art froms from classical music and theater, to experimental and modern productions. While it has also expanded to include modern venues all over Athens, most of the big shows still take place in the ancient theaters, and the atmosphere at these venues is simply unbeatable.

If watching a show in an ancient theater sounds tempting, but you prefer concerts over ancient plays, the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens is your best venue option. For big theatrical productions (with English surtitles), choose the theaters in Epidaurus.

Below are some of our favorites choices for shows to catch at the ancient venues during this year’s festival (go here for the full program).

What’s on at Odeon of Herodes Atticus:

Built by Herodes Atticus in memory of his wife Regilla in the 2nd C. AD, this Roman theatre in central Athens, commonly referred to as the Herodion, is still frequently used as a venue for live music performances and theatre. The impressive space on the slope of the Acropolis was renovated to house the festival in the 1950s, and has since hosted many huge stars such as Frank Sinatra, Maria Callas, and Luciano Pavarotti.

Bill Murray, Jan Vogler & Friends, June 19

Bill Murray, who is famous for surprising his fans by taking on very unexpected projects, comes to Greece to perform his debut album New Worlds together with cellist Jan Vogler, violinist Mira Wang, and pianist Vanessa Perez. The record is a unique creation, combining classical music and poetry.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, June 27

One of the world’s leading orchestras, the Tchaikovsky Symphony Orchestra, will perform Capriccio Italien, Piano Concerto No. 1., suites from The Nutcracker and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s ballets The Sleeping Beauty and Swan Lake, conducted by Vladimir Fedoseyev.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

Carmen, July 27-29 & 31

George Bizet’s iconic opera Carmen will be performed by the Athens National Opera. Set in the present day, in a Europe with closed borders and poverty, this production, directed by Göteborg Opera’s Stephen Langridge, is modern and sharp.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

The Persians, July 1

You can catch a theatre performance at the Herodion as well. For the second year, following huge success in 2017, Aeschylus’ drama The Persians will be performed at the Athens & Epidaurus Festival by the Cyprus Theatre Organization. Directed by Aris Biniaris, the play combines music and stage action performed by talented Greek and Cypriot actors.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

What’s on at the Ancient Theatre of Epidaurus:

Many renowned theatre groups from Greece and around the world have performed at this 4th c. BC. theatre which is dedicated to ancient Greek drama. Famous for its amazing acoustics, and surrounded by beautiful natural surroundings within the Ascleipus Sanctuary, seeing a play here will create memories for a lifetime.

Electra, July 20 & 21

One of the most brutal plays by Sophocles, written ca. 412-411 B.C., will be performed by the National Theatre of Greece. Electra, directed by Thanos Papakonstantinou, is the famous drama about revenge portraying the time that followed Agamemnon’s death, and the actions of his daughter Electra.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

The Frogs, August 10 & 11

What play could be better suited for your first visit to an ancient Greek theatre than Aristophanes’ satire about the god of theatre Dionysus traveling to the underworld and making Aeschylus and Euripides take part in a dramatic competition, with the aim of bringing some new great dramas back to Athens? The Frogs was first presented at the Lenaia festival in 405 B.C.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

Oedipus at Colonus, August 17 & 18

Sophocles’ last tragedy tells the story of Oedipus at the end of his life. It is a story that centers around human fate and freedom in reference to the gods’ omnipotence. This production will be directed by respected Greek director and set designer Yannis Kokkos.

The show starts at 21.00.

Read more here

What’s on at the Little Theatre of Ancient Epidaurus:

Much smaller than its neighbor, this theater by the port of Epidaurus also hosts performances of ancient dramas, though usually in more alternative styles, and by emerging artists.

Prometheus Bound, August 3

Discourse is central in the production of this play by Aeschylus, directed by Martha Frintzila. The tragedy will be recited in a rhythmical and melodious manner, which will make you fall in love with the Greek language (of course, it will also have surtitles in English). Music and movement is used to enhance the power of the words.

The show starts at 21.30.

Read more here

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