The sun is up, but the Aegean continues to sleep.  And the bay is so still, it looks as smooth as a sheet of glass.

‘The more things change, the more they stay the same,’ says our guide.  ‘Even since the time of the Ancients.’

The pier too seems sleepy.  Colourful fishing boats rest after a night of much hard work.  A tardy solitary fisherman ever-more slowly tidies his nets.

‘True, the fishing net is now made of nylon not rope.  And the boats have motors, but the passing of knowledge in such matters of tide, current and the casting of nets keeps each successive generation connected to its past. That is of comfort in uncertain times. Come, we have a short drive to the site.’

While visually absorbing the dimensions of the skênê, orchestra and theatron, the guide continues: ‘It was built in the 4th Century BC. Designed by Polykleitos the Younger, it consists of thirty-four tiers and seats about 14,000 people. Built into the hillside the acoustics are so perfect, words spoken from the performance space or, orchestra, are heard clearly at the farthest reaches of the theatre.  You now have about thirty minutes to explore this amazing place on your own.’

The group fragments.  Two climb the steps to the very back of the theatre. With aching calves and raised heart rate they sit in the middle of the last row to catch their breath.  One turns their face into the faintest hint of a breeze to cool her brow.

‘Know what would be nice?’

‘No, what?’

‘A live performance. To really test the acoustics.  Be back soon.’

While she descends the steps, her memory busily shifts through the learned performance pieces prepared for examinations past.  Just a snippet will do.  Nothing from the playwrights of Ancient Greece come to mind, but something of more recent vintage does.

Reaching the performance space, she stands on the spot best noted for acoustic perfection.  Aligned shoulders, head, and spine allow the lower ribs to expand and lungs to fully inflate. Looking to the back row, she speaks.

‘The quality of mercy is not strained,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’

Her companion stands. A thumbs-up signals audibility.  Smiling, she begins to climb those steps once more.  Eventually she resumes her seat next to him.

‘Heard every word,’ he says. ‘Clear as a bell.’

‘Thanks!’  She sighs.  ‘Would have been nice though if I also got to listen to something.’

Activity in the orchestra catches her attention.  About twelve people are milling about in the very spot she had just vacated.

‘Wonder what they’re up to?’

One person appears to direct where each person is to stand before turning to face the auditorium.

‘Ladies and gentlemen, we are a Danish choir and we would like to present this to you.’

Solo, the soprano begins to sing.  Pitch perfect, her voice soars through the still air. Light and joyous. Mezzo-soprano, tenor, and baritone then join in.  Harmonies intertwine, building to a crescendo.  The sound travels up and up and up beyond the two sitting in the very last row.

All too soon the performance is over.  And from the back row, two pairs of hands clap approval.

‘You got your wish.’

‘I did indeed. My very own personalized memento from the place of the Ancients.’

Copyright Jo 2012


The excerpt is from ‘The Merchant of Venice’ by William Shakespeare.

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