CULTURE

Finding the Greek National Opera a home

The committee set up by the Ministry of Culture in order to conduct research and find a solution to the long-pending issue of where to house the Greek National Opera has come up with yet another suggestion. The latest suggestion focuses on the building of the former Military Radio & Television Headquarters (YENED), which is situated at the junction of Mesogeion and Katehaki avenues. It is the fourth venue to come up for discussion, after venues in Gazi, the Faliron Delta and Hellenikon all appeared as possible candidates. Does this new suggestion mean that the idea of the Kerameikos-Gazi area has been abandoned for good? In theory, the committee set up by the ministry was charged with examining all possibilities and any potential problems of housing the National Opera in Gazi. It appears that many serious issues are conspiring against the Gazi-Kerameikos suggestion, namely that a lot of money would be needed for expropriations and that there is always the possibility of coming across antiquities during the construction works. Regarding the Faliron Delta, the difficulties are mainly geographical: it is not close to the city center, despite the fact that the area, because of last year’s Olympic Games, has very good connections with most means of transport, including the tram. At any rate, everything indicates that the committee’s work at the Ministry of Culture is nearing at an end. The proximity of the Kerameikos-Gazi area to the city center had always been the strongest point in favor of housing the National Opera there, in spite of all the other problems caused by that suggestion. The new suggestion, that of the YENED building, takes care of the distance problem, but it seems that new issues might come up because it is situated right next to hospitals. The ongoing adventure of trying to find new lodgings for the National Opera is a very old story. Everyone agrees that the institution is currently suffocating in the old-fashioned building of Academias Street, while during the past few years the National Opera has tried to get a bit of a breather by making use of other theater stages nearby. The need to re-house the National Opera did not arise recently; it goes back a long time. After what was, in essence, a refusal by the previous Ministry of Culture to transfer the National Opera to the Gazi area (it is a well-known fact that the ministry never engaged in the necessary procedures to test the ground, in order to assert whether antiquities were present there or not), other institutions showed interest and continued to insist: the Athens Organization, the Unification of Archaeological Sites and Athens Municipality, but also city planners, architects, opera singers and scientists were keen on the Gazi-Kerameikos suggestion and a Society for the Creation of a New «Maria Callas» Greek National Opera Building and Plato’s Academy at Kerameikos was formed, upon the initiative of soprano Vasso Papantoniou. During a one-day conference organized by the society back then, it had been argued that a National Opera, especially when being the only opera stage in the country, had to be situated in the city center, because it is a defining factor of the city’s urban landscape. The suggestion was backed by the argument that the Kerameikos-Gazi area was designed so as to become the third corner of the main Athens triangle and to have a cultural role. The National Opera continues to stage significant performances, to host great artists from all over the world and to produce new opera talent, in spite of the harrowing functional problems it is facing because of its unsuitable current lodgings.