“Sports and the arts should create bonds between countries, especially neighbors like Albania and Greece. I read of the events on the Internet in France and it made me very sad. Maybe with artists, with people who are wise and temperate, we can create bridges of friendship between these two nations, who have so much in common.» In the aftermath of the unfortunate incidents that took place after the Greece-Albania soccer match two weeks ago, which caused racist and nationalistic clashes in the two countries, Albanian soprano Inva Mula is building her own bridge of friendship with her voice this evening at the Thessaloniki Concert Hall’s opera gala in memory of Maria Callas. The acclaimed opera singer responded to an invitation by the organizers to sing the tribute being held on the anniversary of the great Greek soprano’s death. «Words are too poor to describe what Maria Callas represents to me and to our generation as a whole. She changed the manner in which opera was performed, turned the page and opened a new, individual one. For many singers right now, and for me as well, she serves as a model, she is in herself a chapter in the history of classical song, in research and interpretation,» Mula pointed out. Busy schedule The Albanian soprano was speaking from Paris, where she has been living for the past few years, and was on her way to Seville, before going on to Moscow and then Thessaloniki. These three appearances in one week reflect how busy the singer has been in the past 16 years, with myriad appearances taking her all over the globe. With a background of piano and singing lessons from a very young age in her hometown of Tirana, and with parents who were both opera singers (her mother was a classical song teacher and her father a singer), she saw her career skyrocket to international levels after winning the George Enescu competition in Bucharest, Romania, in 1988. «I grew up surrounded by opera and I learned to love singing because of my parents,» the soprano recalls. «I was just 7 years old when I first began singing. I acquired very solid foundations during my studies in Tirana, where there are some excellent music schools. There are quite a few Albanian artists who have enjoyed international careers, and it is just a small country with a population of 3 million.» Mula’s vocal talent, in combination with her acting skills («two absolutely necessary elements for an opera singer,» she says), as well as considerable hard work and close cooperation with her associates (directors, maestros, etc.) have rewarded the soprano with openings at some of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, where she has performed the most challenging lead roles. Her success, however, does not appear to have affected her modesty. «If you want to make progress,» she says, «you must never be completely pleased with your results. A good voice is not enough. If you want to be able to stand there, on stage, you need a strong educational background and technique. And this is what Maria Callas taught us.» Other ventures Her first venture beyond opera was in the science-fiction thriller «The Fifth Element,» directed by Luc Besson, where she provided the voice of the Diva. «It was the director’s idea; he was looking for an opera singer. I tried it and I must admit that I loved it. I’ll not hide the fact that I am open to proposals for films or for any other new experience, even working with crossover music,» admits Mula. Despite having lived and worked abroad, the opera singer never forgets her homeland, where she made her debut. She also initiated a festival that is held every two years at the archaeological site of Butrint with the participation of the Tirana Opera Orchestra – Greece’s own Mario Frangoulis has appeared there, performing songs by Mikis Theodorakis. Broad program Mula is slightly nervous about her appearance in Thessaloniki, and especially about how she will be received by the audience, so she has selected a broad-ranging program covering the most popular arias performed by Callas, as well as selections of her own favorites. «I find elements in every composer’s work that express me,» she explains. «Nevertheless, my repertory, though broad, does lean toward Italian bel canto: Donizetti, Bellini, Rossini. I also feel very attached to Verdi and have been performing ‘La Traviata’ for the past few years at big opera houses. At the same time, I am also very fond of Massenet, and Manon is one of my favorite roles.» Thessaloniki Concert Hall, 25th Martiou & Paralia, tel 2310.895.800. Tickets are also available at the Aristotelous Square box office. ‘Callas in Memoriam’ at Herod Atticus The Herod Atticus Theater will also be paying tribute to Maria Callas with its annual concert organized by the Athenaeum International Arts Center. The Kiev Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Nikolai Vladimirovici Diadiura, and with piano soloist Vadym Kholodenko (winner of the 2004 Maria Callas Grand Prix), will perform Liszt’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in A major and Prokofiev’s Piano Concert No. 3 in C major. Tickets for this event are available from the Hellenic Festival Box Office (39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.928.2000) and from the theater itself (Herod Atticus Theater, Dionysiou Areopagitou, Acropolis, tel 210.323.2771).