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“Tosca” at the Olympia Theater March 22, 2008

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22-03-08_tosca.jpg  A poster for the performance.

Yet another premiere of Puccini’s popular opera “Tosca” by the National Opera has created a marvelous feeling of anticipation among fans of the genre.

Last night at the Olympia Theater, the Chairman of the Opera’s Board, Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, and the Opera’s Artistic Director Giovanni Pacor were present when the curtain went up. Official guests were shown to their seats in the presidential box by Maria Karanagnosti. In the interval and after the performance, the foyer was abuzz with members of the audience exchanging impressions.

Seats can be booked by calling 210 3612461, or, for National Opera subscribers, 210 3623404. National Opera of Greece, Olympia Theater, 59 Academias Street, Athens. 

Related Links > http://www.nationalopera.gr

Agnes Baltsa to perform Rossini at the Megaron March 14, 2008

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“L’Italiana in Algeri” opens tomorrow at the Athens Concert Hall’s Alexandra Trianti Hall

At the Athens Concert Hall, Gioachino Rossini’s “L’Italiana in Algeri” has been revived by Diana Kienast, based on a landmark 1987 mise en scene by Jean-Pierre Ponnelle.

This year is a landmark for the famous Greek mezzo-soprano Agnes Baltsa as it marks an anniversary: In 1968, she made her first appearance as Cherubino in Mozart’s “Marriage of Figaro” at the Frankfurt Opera House. That was the beginning of a great career. Her collaborations with top maestro Herbert von Karajan, who described her as the greatest dramatic mezzo-soprano of her time, and her numerous performances of “Carmen”, mostly alongside Jose Carreras, are just some of her many great moments.

Baltsa has a special relationship with Gioachino Rossini’s opera buffs, having appeared in leading roles in his “Barber of Seville”, “La Cenerentola” and “L’Italiana in Algeri” – the latter of which she is preparing to perform at the Athens Concert Hall. Tomorrow, as well as on March 17, 19 and 21, the Alexandra Trianti Hall will host “L’Italiana in Algeri”, in a production in which Diana Kienast will revive Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s historical mise en scene. Ponnelle’s 1987 production featured Baltsa and Ruggero Raimondi in the leading roles under acclaimed maestro Claudio Abbado. Ponnelle also left his signature on the sets, lighting and the costumes, as the great artist viewed the staging of the famous opera as an entire work of art.

13-03-08_agnes_baltsa.jpg  “The role of Isabella is one of the greatest roles of my career” said Baltsa at a recent press conference. “But every time feels like the first time. It is like a wager with myself, to see how my voice has changed through the years. Rossini demands great vocal discipline”.

“L’Italiana in Algeri” premiered in Venice on May 22, 1813. It was the first opera, along with “Tancredi”, that earned Rossini international fame. Based on a libretto by Angelo Anelli, the opera follows Elvira’s romantic adventures at the palace of the Turkish Bey of Algiers. It has a craziness highly indicative of Rossini’s comic operas.

The Athens Concert Hall production will further feature baritone Lorenzo Regazzo, tenor Mario Zeffiri, baritone Renato Girolami and soprano Vassiliki Karayianni, who recently performed in Rossini’s “Le Compte Ory” with the Greek National Opera, among others. The Athens State Orchestra will participate, under the baton of Antonello Allemandi.

Athens Concert Hall, 1 Kokkali Street and Vasilissis Sofias Avenue, Athens, tel 210 7282333.

Related Links > http://www.megaron.gr

Operetta journey to heart of Athenian Belle Epoque March 4, 2008

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“‘Thymisou ekeina ta chronia” – “Remember those years” – returns to the Athens Acropol Theater. Audiences are flocking to the Acropol Theater for a production featuring works by Theofrastos Sakellaridis.

Four times a week taxis and private cars drop off their passengers on the Ippocratous sidewalk: well-groomed ladies and gentlemen somewhere in the over-50s age group. Clad in their felt hats and pearls, this almost-exiled-from-Athenian-nightlife world swiftly takes its place at the Acropol Theater this season, for a tribute to Theofrastos Sakellaridis (1883-1950), the so-called patriarch of Greek operetta.

Not unlike a high-school reunion, from Wednesdays to Sundays the most homogeneous public to be seen at an Athenian foyer has been passionately supporting the Greek National Opera’s most popular production this year. Performances of “Thymisou ekeina ta chronia” (Remember Those Years) run to April 20.

Following a break last year, the operetta is back in the National Opera’s repertory. And what a comeback it is: “Thymisou ekeina ta chronia” is a highly satisfying medley undertaken by musicologist Lambros Liavas, who put together the show following elaborate research on both a historic and music level.

Developed from scratch, the production is based on a dramatized narration-guided tour undertaken by the composer himself (interpreted at the Acropol by Michalis Mitrousis), who is accompanied by two of his muses, namely Marika Kotopouli and Afroditi Laoutari. On stage, the story is told backward, with Sakellaridis appearing on New Year’s Eve in 1950, just prior to his death, before going all the way back to the heart of the Athenian Belle Epoque.

At the Acropol Theater, the operetta’s dynamic comeback is based on new terms. The requirements here were straightforward: What was needed was a new point of view, far from the kind of approach that treats operetta productions as if they belong in museums.

Hence the involvement of Liavas and choreographer Apostolia Papadamaki, the latter invited to participate even though she had no prior experience in this particular artistic genre.

“I had never been to an operetta production before,” confesses Papadamaki. When asked, however, she agreed without too much hesitation. To begin with, her decision to join in had a lot to do with the presence of Liavas, with whom she worked on the production’s direction. Another reason behind her decision is that she tends to perform well when entering unknown territory.

“Staging something postmodern in Athens right now does not seem like a real challenge to me,” says Papadimaki, adding, “I enjoyed working on a project that targets an audience which is being offered very little in terms of nightlife.”

At the Acropol, the new wind is blowing discreetly with modern, minimalist tendencies in the settings, lighting and costumes, while the orchestration flirts with jazz and swing. Papadamaki sought to strike a balance between the old and the new, as opposed to pursuing a subversive take. And she cannot hide her satisfaction given the slight drop in the audience’s average age. Will the first emos turn up next year?

Greek National Opera, Acropol Theater, National Opera New Stage, 9-11 Ippocratous Street, Athens, tel 210 3643700.

A Larissa-born soprano brings opera home February 11, 2008

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Myrto Papathanassiou at the helm of ‘La Traviata’ > The Greek soprano is presenting ‘La Traviata’ in Larissa this month.

The headline in leading Italian newspaper La Repubblica was poignant: “Violetta-Myrto seduces the Opera,” read the title, while nearly all of the rave review was dedicated to “Myrto Papathanassiou from Larissa.” Greek soprano Papathanassiou had drawn enthusiasm from the Roman public as Violetta in Verdi’s “La Traviata” at the city’s Teatro dell’Opera. That was back in April of last year, when two leading names of Italian opera, director Franco Zeffirelli and conductor Gianluigi Gelmetti, had entrusted Papathanassiou with the role. She was back in Rome’s opera house this year, taking part in a new production of Puccini’s “Tosca.”

Taking a break from her busy international schedule, Papathanassiou is currently in Greece working on a project that will not get her another Repubblica headline but nevertheless means a lot to her.

On February 22, Papathanassiou is scheduled to go on stage in Larissa, her hometown. At the helm of an almost exclusively made-in-Larissa production of “La Traviata,” at the city’s Municipal musical conservatory, the soprano will appear alongside the city’s Municipal Young Symphony Orchestra, the Larissa conservatory’s Dimitris Mitropoulos school orchestra and opera choir as well as the Thessaly ballet, under the guidance of director Costas Lambroulis and maestro Christos Chtistakis.

Considering that opera productions are a rarity in places like Thessaloniki, a city with over 1 million inhabitants, staging “La Traviata” in Larissa takes on a larger dimension, far beyond the upcoming five scheduled performances at the city’s municipal music school. The event is uniting the city’s artistic powers and brings an artistic genre identified with big city centers to the local community.

As for Papathanassiou, the soprano is fully aware of the upcoming project’s importance. “It takes guts to do this,” she says, adding that her involvement in the production has a lot to do with her faith in the abilities of the local community. Furthermore, following the orchestra’s own preparations, whose level she finds “very good,” she is now looking forward to the rehearsals.

Papathanassiou’s own journey from Larissa has been embellished with various stops at leading opera houses around the world: the Sydney Opera, the Monaco Opera, the Amsterdam Opera, Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, the Opera Comique in Paris and the Konzerthaus in Vienna, to name but a few.

On the Greek front, Papathanassiou has collaborated with the Greek National Opera only once so far, taking on the role of Sandrina in Mozart’s “La Finta Giardiniera” – something the soprano attributes to coincidence and chance. In any case, while Papathanassiou is already aware of her schedule for 2011, the Greek National Opera has yet to announce its program for next season.

All eyes on troubled ballet’s newly appointed director October 31, 2007

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Famed Russian dancer Irek Mukhamedov makes his debut on Sunday.

«I always tell myself that whatever happens is only for the better,» says Irek Mukhamedov, the world-renowned classical dancer who recently assumed the top artistic post at the troubled Greek National Opera Ballet.

Succeeding another prominent figure as artistic director, the Canadian classical dancer Lynn Seymour, who resigned abruptly in the summer after a one-year tenure, Mukhamedov is the latest bet being placed by the Greek ballet’s administration. Seymour had walked out declaring that her «artistic objectives could not be reached under specific working conditions» while adding that the changes she had proposed «could not be implemented in the near future».

Now 47, Mukhamedov, who continues to rank as one of the world’s most impressive classical dancers, has often declared: «I don’t want to be one of the ordinary ones. I want to be the best».

Born in Kazan, Russia, Mukhamedov trained at the Moscow Ballet School. In 1981, he won the Grand Prix at the Moscow International Ballet Competition and was recruited as the principal dancer at the Bolshoi Ballet, where he remained for nine years.

His performances in «Spartacus», «Ivan the Terrible», «Raymonda», «Romeo and Juliet» and «The Golden Age», a production choreographed just for Mukhamedov, highlighted his phenomenal talent.

In 1990, a significant year in Mukhamedov’s career, the Russian artist moved to the West to become the principle dancer at Covent Garden’s Royal Ballet. He stayed until 2001. Last year, when Seymour was appointed artist director to the Greek National Opera Ballet, Mukhamedov joined her here as an assistant and trainer. Now at the helm himself, Mukhamedov is set to stage his debut production for the National Opera Ballet this Sunday evening, as both dancer and choreographer, at the Olympia Theater. The performance will feature three ballets, «Paquita» by Marius Petipa, Jose Limon’s «The Moor’s Pavane» and August Bournonville’s «Napoli».

Greeks aim to bring Callas collection home October 31, 2007

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Italians will also be vying for opera singer’s paraphernalia at auction in Milan

la_divina_maria_callas.jpg  Her relationship with Greece may have been as tempestuous as her love affair with Aristotle Onassis, but three decades after her death Greeks, it seems, cannot get enough of Maria Callas. So much so, that the cash-strapped Athens government has unprecedented plans to snap up the last great collection of paraphernalia associated with the singer when it goes under the auctioneer’s hammer on December 12.

“The sale of all these items interests us hugely,” Panayiotis Kakoliris, a senior adviser to the Greek Culture Minister, said. “Right now, we are looking into how we can raise the funds, to both buy and bring them here.”

At stake is a fabulous array of intimate letters, jewels, evening dresses, furniture, paintings, photographs, unseen stage notes and annotated musical scores released by the estate of Callas’s husband, the late Italian industrialist Giovanni Battista Meneghini.

The material, which allegedly unlocks every aspect of the soprano’s life with the much older Meneghini, whom she was to drop in 1957 for Onassis, is expected to fetch well in excess of £500,000 when it is auctioned in Milan. Comprising 330 lots, the collection, which also includes the couple’s engraved, gold band wedding rings, is so voluminous that Sotheby’s had to put aside a day for the sale.

“The items may be less valuable now but they are very intimate. What is quite obvious is that Meneghini, though 28 years older than Maria, never stopped being in love with her,” said Esmeralda Benvenuti, the deputy director of Sotheby’s in Milan. “He kept all her letters and, having read them, I can say they are really very passionate. A lot of her belongings, after her death, were put up for auction in Paris in 1978 and he bought those as well which is why the collection is so big.”

Since Callas’s premature death, at the age of 53 in the French capital, interest in the woman who would come to be known as La Divina, has never waned, with fan clubs proliferating worldwide. Strangely, however, international adoration has failed until this year to be replicated in Greece, the country Callas most identified with, requesting that her ashes be scattered in the Aegean, but one she avoided when, in her late 30s, her voice cracked and her often stormy relations with her family worsened.

At the last auction of Callas memorabilia in Paris seven years ago, Greek devotees rushed to buy the singer’s personal effects, but Athens’ Town Hall, which had also dispatched buyers, was unable to keep up with the bidding war. As a result, admirers in Athens have had to make do with a Maria Callas Museum whose exhibits include little more than a wig, a set of gloves and photographs of the singer playing with her favourite pooch. “Of course, we would like to have more but tell me how when there’s always been the issue of money,” said Loulis Psychoulis, who runs an Athenian conservatory dedicated to La Divina.

Augmenting the country’s paltry Callas collection has become a priority for a government that, this year, has also gone out of its way to celebrate the great dramatic singer with a series of recitals, concerts, exhibitions and shows.

But the desire to repay a debt of gratitude, long overlooked, may have come too late. When the bidding starts in Milan, the home town of La Scala where much of her career was made, the Greeks will be up against the Italians who also see Callas, their favourite opera star, as one of their own.

Born Mary Anna Kalogeropoulou to Greek emigres in New York, Maria Callas is regarded as the greatest opera singer since the second world war. She grew up in Athens, making her debut there. She moved to Italy and met industrialist Giovanni Meneghini. They married in 1949. He oversaw her career which rocketed at La Scala in Milan. In 1957, she met Aristotle Onassis, divorced Meneghini and expected to marry Onassis, but the shipping magnate’s affections turned to John F Kennedy’s widow Jackie, who he married in 1968. Callas gave her last public concert in 1974. She died on September 16 1977 in Paris.

Maria Callas Auction October 25, 2007

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Greece eyes items going under the hammer in Milan next month

Greece is thinking of bidding for various personal belongings of opera diva Maria Callas that are to be auctioned off next month, according to reports yesterday.

Sotheby’s is due to put letters, dresses and other items that belonged to Callas up for sale in Milan on December 12 after the items were released by the estate of her late husband Giovanni Battista Meneghini. «The sale of these items interests us hugely» Britain’s Guardian newspaper quoted Culture Ministry official Panayiotis Kakoliris as saying. «Right now, we are looking into how we can raise the funds to both buy and bring them back here.»