Edinburgh, 1957: Maria Callas’s performances of Bellini’s «La Sonnambula» in a La Scala production are a triumph. Such is the production’s success that La Scala decides to schedule one extra performance. Callas refuses to perform on that last night and a last-minute replacement is called in: 23-year-old Renata Scotto. The young soprano learns the demanding role in the space of two days and her appearance on stage meets with instant success. These days Scotto is enjoying a second career as an opera director and it is in this capacity that she is coming to Athens for a new, ambitious production of Giacomo Puccini’s «Turandot» by the Greek National Opera. «It’s quite different to interpret an opera role and to direct an opera,» Scotto told Kathimerini. «I like every opera I direct to carry my signature. That is why I work with the same set designer, Carlo Diappi. I’m very meticulous, especially when it comes to lighting and set design, for which I want a minimalist aesthetic. I’m in favor of a contemporary look when it comes to directing an opera. Modern doesn’t necessarily mean changing the historical era in which the opera was initially set. Sometimes it’s nice to do it, but you can’t do it with works like ‘La Sonnambula’ or ‘Turandot.’ For me, ‘Turandot’ lies somewhere between reality and legend. Turandot is not a real person, she doesn’t really exist. And that is something that I stress in the production through the interpretation and the costumes.» Scotto doesn’t adhere to the belief that her own soprano period was the definitive era of great voices. She does, however, point out a number of dangers facing today’s opera interpreters. «You get the feeling that singers don’t really count anymore. The director takes one look at a robust soprano and rejects her without even listening to her voice. On the other hand, vocalists now take good care of their figures. At the establishment where I teach I tell my students that losing weight doesn’t mean losing one’s voice – voice doesn’t come through weight. There’s also another element these days: In more forward-looking productions with rather minimalist set design and costumes, the interpreters’ figures stand out even more.» «What’s more, these days singers have so many ‘sirens’: enormous publicity, fame, television, cinema – everybody is rushing to become famous. They sing absolutely everything and they end up ‘burning’ their voices. They waste their time traveling, they are lazy and they often learn a role by listening to other people’s interpretations. They think they can learn that way. Thankfully, I had great teachers who protected me. And I also learnt a simple, yet fundamental lesson from Callas: Study six hours per day, every single day. Steel discipline.» A few days later, American tenor Franco Farina gave his own view on Scotto. «She’s like a little girl, running up and down the Herod Atticus Theater steps. And she still shows tremendous enthusiasm for her work.» A Greek National Opera production At the Herod Atticus Theater, Giacomo Puccini’s «Turandot» is a National Greek Opera production and part of the Athens Festival. The opera opens on Sunday, with additional performances on June 3, 5, 6, 7 and 8. Besides Renata Scotto, who directs the opera, Lukas Karytinos conducts the Greek National Opera Orchestra, Lydia Biondi created the choreography and Eleftheria Deko is responsible for the lighting. Set and costume design is by Carlo Diappi. The cast includes George Matheakakis as the Mandarin, Elena Kelessidi and Olga Mykytenko alternating as Liu, Franco Farina and Piero Giuliacci alternating as Calaf, Dimitris Kavrakos and Christoforos Stamboglis in the role of Timur, Stamatis Beris as the prince of Persia, Costas Mavrogenis as Ping, Dimitris Sigalos as Pang and Nikos Stefanou as Pong. Dimitris Stefanou takes on the role of Emperor Altoum, while Janice Baird and Susan Foster alternate as Princess Turandot. For tickets: Hellenic Festival box office, 39 Panepistimiou, tel 210.327.2000 and online, on www.greekfestival.gr; Olympia Theater, 59-61 Academias, tel 210.361.2461, 210.364.3725; and online at www.nationalopera.gr. Performances start at 9 p.m.