The return of the fiery diva

In real life Elena Kelessidi is no different from the familiar, playful diva thousands of people have applauded at major theaters around the world. She speaks loudly, interrupts a discussion to warmly greet an old friend and laughs uncontrollably. Her upbeat personality can uplift even the most determined pessimist. Following a 13-year absence, Kelessidi is currently making her comeback at the Olympia Theater. Her last appearance in a Greek National Opera production goes back to 1994, when she interpreted – for the first time in Greece – the role of Constanze, in Mozart’s «The Abduction from the Seraglio.» This year, she is back with yet another debut for Greece, sharing with Canadian tenor Colin Ainsworth the lead parts in Gluck’s «Orphee et Eurydice.» The opera’s original, lyrical Italian libretto by Ranieri de Calzabigi became the basis for Pierre-Louis Moline’s French version. Today Kelessidi is billed as the most international Greek soprano. A principal singer at the Royal Opera at Covent Garden, her roles at the prestigious theater include those of Violetta («La Traviata»), Cleopatra («Julius Caesar»), Mimi («La Boheme») and Liu («Turandot»). Over the years, the soloist has appeared in celebrated theaters such as the Vienna State Opera, the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the Paris’s Opera Bastille. How does she feel coming back to «provincial» Athens, having been hooked on high-energy artistic centers for so long? «Things are changing and that’s great. I’m stunned with the professionalism of people at the National Opera. You see things you don’t see elsewhere,» said Kelessidi, referring to the constant presence of the company’s artistic director, Stefanos Lazaridis, for instance. «It’s very strange seeing the opera’s director at the rehearsals, asking questions, dealing with technical issues, staying at the theater until 10 p.m.,» she continued. «The director usually attends the dress rehearsal and that’s it. At one point we came across a minor technical glitch and they all apologized.» Kelessidi points out, however, that her return to the Olympia Theater is not related to Lazaridis’s presence there. She always kept in touch with his predecessors, she says. «They were after me, I was after them, but it was impossible to find suitable dates for both sides,» she explained. Now she is back – at least for a while. She is scheduled to appear at an opera gala at the Pallas theater on February 27 and participate in a Greek National Opera production of «Carmen» as part of the Athens Festival this summer. Kelessidi represents an increasingly fading tradition among younger opera singers: that of a fiery diva, full of expression, who knows how to take her audience along with a simple gesture. «Perhaps things seem colder these days, but that’s what it’s like nowadays. We are all running around, talking on our mobile phones, trying to find a cab…» For the singer, these are particularly competitive times, where a great voice is the sole prerequisite. «Today you are obliged to look pretty and thin,» concluded Kelessidi. «Otherwise people will stay at home and listen to your absolutely wonderful voice on a CD.» For more info, see What’s On, Page 7.