“La Piccola Scala”
The historic Theater Apollon is one of the major attractions of Syros and constitutes an emblem of the island’s cultural heritage. Created in 1864 by the Italian architect Pietro Sampo who was inspired by 4 stunning Italian standards including the Scala di Milano, the theater Apollon adorns the heart of the capital to this day. The Apollo Theater first opened its doors with an Italian theater troupe that among others performances staged the famous Italian opera La Traviata. Its architectural splendor though did not manage to prevent the major catastrophes that the theater suffered over the years. The Apollon theater was forced to close and to spend a long period of renovations and interventions with funding from the state, with the full support of GNTO and the artistic supervision of Dimitris Fortsas as well as of the architect Peter Pikionis until 2000. Today the theater hosts various artistic and cultural events such as the Festival of the Aegean, famous plays and world-class performances.
The Apollo Theater (also known as La Piccola Scala) in Hermoupolis, the main town of the island of Syros, is an important landmark and a symbol of its financial and cultural prosperity circa mid-19th century. Constructed between 1862-1864, and designed by the same architect of the Club Pietro Sampo, it remains to this date one of the oldest indoor theatres of modern times as well as an architectural jewel of Syros.
It is widely believed that the Apollo Theater was modeled after the famous La Scala di Milano Opera House in Milan; however, other influences are evident as well. The auditorium and the double arch of the proscenium with Corinthian columns trace their influence to:
– La Scala in Milan (1776)
– the restored Teatro San Carlo di Napoli (1816)
– Theater at Castelfranco (1745)
– Teatro della Pergola in Florence (1755)
Conversely, the dome and its support follow the French architectural traditions of the 19th century.
The decision to build a permanent home for theater and opera was greeted with enthusiasm and some relief by the local audience. Since 1828, performances had taken place in make shift venues-timber warehouses, coffee shops and clubs. The inaugural performance at the Apollo Theatre appears to have been the opera La Favorita by Gaetano Donizetti on October 3, 1864. However, other sources claim the inaugural performance was Rigoletto by Giuseppe Verdi on April 20, 1864. (Chrimatistirion, no. 75/29-4-1864). Many opera performances followed, including La Traviata and others. Opera and theater performances became the center of the cultural life in Hermoupolis; contemporary reports of foreign travelers remark on the sumptuous staging of the operas and plays, and the well-dressed and “chic” audience. The Apollo Theatre played host to numerous Greek and Italian theatrical and operatic troupes, performing the most famous and popular plays, operas and operettas of their time.
Syros became a popular stop in the route that lead from Venice and Milano to the Middle and Far East. After the theater was built, more and more Italians would stay longer on the island, turning the Apollo Theatre into a home for hundreds of resident Italians. Opera performances occurred each summer-Tosca, Il Trovatore, La Boheme, to name a few. Theatrical productions and recitals occurred into the 1900s. During the 20th century, some of Greece’s most famous stage actors performed there: Marika Kotopouli, Kyveli, Manos Katrakis, and others.
During World War II, the theater suffered damages and was used as a movie house. In the years following the war, the theater was never able to regain its former stature, even though several plays were performed there. Notable among them was Shadow by Dario Nicodemi, which starred the superb actress Marika Kotopouli giving the farewell performance of her career on March 24, 1953. During the later part of the 1950s the theatre was deemed unsuitable for performances, and in 1959 the municipality decided to renovate it. Unfortunately, the condition of the theater continued to decline and during the dictatorship years was abandoned.
Reconstruction work began in the 1980s. The theater was reopened in July 2000 after a long period of careful restoration with a team headed by architect Petros Pikionis under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture, with contributions (assistance and oversight) by the Municipality of Hermoupolis. The velvet seats are back, the ceiling paintings are impressive-with them a sense of grandeur has returned. Today four levels of boxes oversee a wooden stage which is 18 meters wide and 9 meters deep.
The first opera performance in the Apollo-after a hundred years of no opera performances-was Rossini’s Il barbiere di Siviglia, produced by the Festival of the Aegean, Peter Tiboris conducting, on July 14, 2005.