By Dimitris Rigopoulos
A museum dedicated to opera great Maria Callas is expected to open its doors in central Athens by the end of next year. Located at 44 Mitropoleos Street, the museum will be housed in a building owned by the City of Athens.
Carried out by architect-museologist Erato Koutsoudaki, assistant professor of museology Dr Andromachi Gazi and conductor-musicologist Alexandros Charkiolakis, the project’s museological and museographical study was unveiled on Wednesday.
According to reports, the study reflects the considerable progress in the way the Greek state has dealt with the celebrated artist’s added value to date.
Nonetheless, the fact that Athens will finally gain a museum where one of the most famous contemporary Greeks will be honored accordingly is a very good piece of news. At the same time, the city will undoubtedly benefit from the addition of a museum bearing the name of such a powerful and recognizable brand, which could attract opera fans from around the world.
The creation of the museum has come about due to a combination of factors. The core of the Maria Callas collection, which includes a number of personal items, was acquired by the City of Athens at auction several years ago but was never put to good use, given that the area where it was being stored, a part of the Technopolis cultural complex in Gazi, was not transformed into a proper museum space, as had been anticipated.
In 2010, during the tenure of Mayor Nikitas Kaklamanis, the municipality paid 7 million euros for the listed interwar building on Mitropoleos Street. An initial agreement between the City of Athens and theater critic Costas Georgousopoulos that foresaw the venue hosting a theater museum never materialized, paving the way for the Callas collection idea.
Given the upcoming local elections, the announcement regarding the new museum met with a certain amount of suspicion. Technopolis president and Callas museum project manager Angeliki Antonopoulou, however, defends both her and the local authorities’ actions.
“To begin with, this is a project we have been working on for at least two years, ever since it was decided that the Callas Museum could not be housed at Technopolis, as it would have been difficult for the museum to coexist alongside the Industrial Gas Museum that we were planning back then, which was eventually inaugurated last year.
“The decision regarding the Mitropoleos building was reached in 2013, but we had to navigate our way through the red tape before reaching the point we’re at today,” noted Antonopoulou.
The Technopolis president was swift to point out that she is not a candidate in the May elections and that all the necessary steps are being taken for the Callas project, estimated at 1.2 million euros, to be included in the National Strategic Reference Framework (NSRF).
Formerly the Hotel Royal and originally designed in the 1930s, the three-floor Mitropoleos edifice was refurbished and redesigned as office space in 2000 and will now have to undergo a series of alterations in view of its future role.
The ground floor is expected to house a bistro (aptly named La Divina) and a shop, while the first and second floors will be dedicated to the permanent collection. According to Koutsoudaki, the collection’s visual displays will not be the museum’s only strong point.
“The museum will be structured around Callas’s personality. The core will be her own voice through recordings, concerts and interviews, among others,” said the architect.
The third floor, with its unrivaled views of the Acropolis, will host a media library and a recordings archive where visitors will be able to listen to music, as well as a space to be used for exhibitions, educational programs, master classes and small-scale concerts.
The third-floor terrace will be available for private dinner parties, something that is expected to contribute considerably to the financing of the museum’s operations.