An international vision for the National Opera

Armed with a new artistic director, Stephanos Lazaridis, the Greek National Opera is set on bolstering its image internationally, opera leaders explained at a press conference Monday. The GNO may also have hope for a permanent home in the near future, based on comments by Culture Minister Giorgos Voulgarakis, who initially kept mum on the issue. The GNO is the only such body in the country which has, for years, been without a suitable venue. All the minister said was that there would be another, «special press conference held addressing the issue.» But, the question could not remain up in the air and the minister eventually let the cat out of the bag: The government, he said, «has already reached certain decisions regarding the construction of an opera house.» But, Voulgarakis added, «the announcement of this decision is above me. The prime minister [Costas Karamanlis] will be making it officially himself.» There was more good news at Monday’s press conference, where Lazaridis, an acclaimed set designer and stage director, outlined his plans for the Greek National Opera and the GNO Ballet. Firstly, he said that the dancers of the GNOB will be trained anew under the guidance of internationally acclaimed teachers. The aim is to help the troupe reach European standards with an eye on developing it into a Greek national ballet. The two theaters currently being used by the GNO, the Olympia and Acropol, have also undergone changes. The Olympia’s stage and orchestra pit have been enlarged and at the Acropol, which will also be staging ballets henceforth, the stage is also larger and an orchestra pit has been built so that finally the organization’s ballet can perform to live rather than recorded music. In terms of the GNO’s repertory is a well-balanced blend of productions that cover the four centuries of opera’s history. The most contemporary are the English National Opera’s groundbreaking «Nixon in China» (April 20-28 2007), a 1980s production with music by American minimalist John Adams and a libretto by Alice Goodman, and Luigi Dallapiccola’s «The Prisoner.» Both productions have already been hugely successful abroad and they come to Greece ready for the playing, on lease from abroad, with a Greek presence included in the latter of the two. Other productions that make up the season’s program are Mozart’s «Don Giovanni» (Oct 25 – Nov 5), Manuel de Falla’s «La Vida Breve» (in a double bill with «The Prisoner,» Nov 19 – Dec 1), Johann Strauss’s «Die Fledermaus» (Dec 30 – Jan 10), Gluck’s «Orpheus and Eurydice» (Jan 26 – Feb 9), Verdi’s «Nabucco» (Feb 25 – Mar 4), Puccini’s «Tosca» (Mar 18 – Apr 1) and Bizet’s «Carmen» (June 1-5). The GNO also seems to have secured the collaboration of top-caliber artists, such as singers Denyce Graves, Maria Guleghina, Leo Nucci, Elena Kelessidi, Yevgeny Akimov and James Maddalena, directors Peter Sellars, Christopher Alden and Steven Pimlott, and conductors David Perry and William Lacey, among others. Young Greek composers As far as Greek productions are concerned, there are only two and both are staged by the Experimental Stage of the GNO. Held at the end of the season, these are four short operas by young composers. But Lazaridis said that he and the GNO’s program director, music critic Nikos Dontas, are researching Greek melodramas with a view to staging a Greek opera next year. The Experimental Stage is one of the key focal points of the new management, which aims to bolster the program as well as increase the number of productions staged especially for children. Overall, the GNO’s new artistic director insisted that the management wants to elevate the organization to international levels, «an aim that may seem ridiculous to some, but which we think is worth the effort,» Lazaridis said. An avid supporter of the artistic director’s vision for the GNO is Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, the president of the board of directors who was formerly chief of the Federation of Greek Industries (SEV). His key presence on the board also accounts for the Greek government’s positive approach to the GNO’s financial troubles. This year’s budget for the GNO has been set at 25.6 million euros, 19 million of which will be covered by the state, according to Culture Minister Voulgarakis. The rest, Kyriakopoulos hopes, will be met by ticket sales and sponsorships, while an outstanding debt of 4 million euros has already been covered by the government with another 4.5 million scheduled for clearance by the end of the year. «Artists and technocrats, we are all on the same side,» said Kyriakopoulos. «We are working towards cleansing and developing our national opera.» Voulgarakis also added that the government recognizes the important cultural role played by opera and that the GNO has the resources and dynamic to deserve an international standing. «The time of making compromises is over. It is now time for the Greek National Opera to claim a distinguished position on the international stage. The people who are at its helm today have the experience, imagination and passion,» he said. All that is left to hope for then is that the government will put its money where its mouth is.