Leaderless, lacking an artistic director and still saddled with the serious financial problems plaguing it over the past few months, the National Opera forged ahead with the opening of the new season. While everything was getting ready for the premiere of Amilcare Ponchielli’s opera «Gioconda,» which opened on Friday, representatives of the National Opera’s unions sent a letter to Prime Minister and Minister of Culture Costas Karamanlis asking for their requests to be met, with priority the appointment of an artistic director. More than two weeks ago, representatives of the unions met with Deputy Minister of Culture Petros Tatoulis to discuss crucial issues regarding the National Opera, such as the construction of a modern opera building and the necessary upgrade of employees’ salaries. Although Tatoulis had promised that within 10 days a new artistic director would be appointed, nothing has been done so far. «We are in a state of flux. Nothing has changed. But because the National Opera has various ensembles that have worked together for many years, it knows how to carry out what has to be done. Of course, the issue of the artistic director is pending and demands an urgent solution, but ‘Gioconda’ will be staged as planned and so will all the other performances that have been scheduled for December,» said Ilias Voudouris, the opera’s conductor, at a recent press conference held to present «Gioconda.’ The opera, which follows the tumultuous life of the title character, consists of well-known arias and much loved melodies. Staged in Athens for the first time in 1970, it is now being presented at the Olympia Theater in a joint production with the Goldoni Theater. Directed by Micha van Hoecke, the production has sets by Cristiano Bacchi and costumes by Marella Ferrera. Denia Mazzola-Gavazzeni and Julia Souglakou will alternate in the part of Gioconda. The remaining performances have been scheduled for this Wednesday, Saturday and November 26. «I think ‘Gioconda’ is still alive thanks to the love that opera fans have for her,» said van Hoecke, who made a point of highlighting the «interesting collaboration between Greek and Italian artists.» «When I have to deal with an opera, I see it as a whole. For instance, ‘The Dance of the Hours,’ which is often staged as an independent ballet, in this production is used as part of the whole.» As the opera is set in Venice, the gray and misty color of the Venice waters prevails in the performance. «This is a complex, introverted work, slightly reminiscent of ancient drama, which highlights the relationship between good and evil,» said Mazzola-Gavazzeni, who played Gioconda at the premiere. Gioconda, a street singer, is in love with Enzo, who in turn is in love with Laura, the wife of nobleman Alvise. Barnaba, a spy for the Holy Inquisition, tries to conquer Gioconda by accusing her blind mother of being a witch. Laura saves the wretched woman from death and, in order to thank her, Gioconda helps Laura and Enzo escape. But to succeed, Gioconda needs the help of Barnaba and has to promise that she will give in to his love if he helps her. When in the end he comes to satisfy his passion, she commits suicide. Viktoria Maifatova and Eleni Liona sing the part of Laura, Christophoros Staboglis and Marco Spotti sing Alvise, Maria Marketou and Lydia Angelopoulou interpret the part of the blind mother, Emil Ivanov and Sergio Panajia sing Enzo, and Alberto Mastromarino and Dimitris Platanias sing the part of Barnaba. They are joined by Costas Dotsikas, Petros Magoulas, Philippos Dellatolas and others. National Opera, Olympia Theater, 59 Academias, tel 210.361.2461/364.3725.