A new direction for the National Opera

Social functions don’t seem to be Giovanni Pacor’s favorite pastime. Judging from a press conference a few days ago, where the recently appointed artistic director of the Greek National Opera made his debut appearance in his new capacity, he seemed to be at ease only after the event finished. During our interview, on the other hand, he was highly accessible. Perhaps the surroundings were in our favor: We were sitting on the Herod Atticus Theater steps, during «Turandot» rehearsals, a National Opera production directed by the celebrated Renata Scotto. Speaking English with an Italian accent, Pacor threw lots of Greek words and phrases into our conversation. Though it’s widely known that his mother is Greek – an Athenian for that matter – the first time he visited the city was in October 2007, on the occasion of a meeting with Odysseas Kyriakopoulos, the National Opera’s chairman of the board. «I was really curious precisely because I had spent my childhood listening to my mother’s stories of Athens. When I received the proposal to take over the National Opera I couldn’t believe it.» Pacor, who recently became a father, doesn’t hail from a family of musicians, though his father was an opera lover. «He wasn’t into ‘Traviata’ or ‘Carmen,’ he enjoyed works outside the classical repertory. Following a journey to Korea and Japan, he brought home a tape recorder. I was very young when I started recording operas from the radio. That is the kind of music I was listening to growing up. I always enjoyed a special relationship with music and following school I studied violin. In my final year I became a member of a quartet and that’s when I started having a clearer notion of how an ensemble works. I sought solutions to problems and other musicians depended on me. That’s when I first thought of becoming a conductor.» And indeed he did, as well as an artist in managerial positions with vast experience in European theaters. According to the maestro, the problems dogging the national opera are more or less the same as those faced by theaters around the world. «Things like signing agreements with the unions, overtime payments, and so on, issues that you come across at the Verona opera, for instance,» said Pacor. «We have now reached a landmark, three-year agreement with the company’s unions and for some of the issues raised I already had the answers, as I had come up against these issues in the past.» Another subject under discussion following the announcement of the company’s new program are co-productions with foreign theaters. «Co-productions are a plus. Costs are shared, but all this doesn’t interest audiences, they care about good productions. A quality co-production raises the theater’s entire level. I don’t mean co-productions with marginal theaters, but with major companies: Amsterdam, Genoa, Bologna, Nice – theaters we can learn from. In October we will work with the Genoa opera on ‘Ariadne auf Naxos,’ which will be staged in Italy in February, followed by Athens and Spain in the fall. The company’s logo will be up there wherever the opera is staged.» A well-grounded man, Pacor doesn’t have much faith in large-scale productions. «I don’t believe in big events. A theater cannot base itself on these. My aim is to make people realize that opera is an attractive spectacle. There’s more to theater than three tenors at a gala. A theater feeds 600 people and their families and that is why it has to stand on solid ground and not fireworks.» Meanwhile the company is working on a new website as well as a kiosk showcasing opera gadgets and CDs. The aim is for local audiences to get better acquainted with the local theater. «When a tenor sings out loud to reach every member in the audience and supposedly the soprano standing next to him can’t hear a thing, that is a surreal, funny image, especially to a young audience. How do you seduce them? We aim to maintain opera’s fictional charm, while displaying an elemental realism on stage. I believe in the modernization of opera (change of periods, liberties in set design and costumes), but I don’t believe in Rigoletto riding a Harley Davidson.» Is he planning to conduct a National Opera production? «I would very much like to go on the company’s podium, but not in this coming season. I have a lot to do, to get adjusted. I am very fond of the National Opera’s people, I hope they feel the same. The most important thing is for us to work well together at all levels.» A man of many musical talents Born in Trieste in 1957, Giovanni Pacor studied violin in his hometown and orchestra conducting at the Vienna Academy of Music, alongside Karl Osterreicher and Franco Ferrara. At the same time, he was a principal violinist at Vienna’s Baden State Theater. In 1986, he was appointed music director of Budapest’s Chamber Orchestra. In 1991, he began a collaboration with Spoletto’s Teatro Lirico Sperimentale as a consultant and a conductor. He was music director of Austria’s Klagenfurt State Theater, as well as artistic director of the Teatro Comunale Giuseppe Verdi in Trieste. Until his Athens appointment, he was the artistic coordinator of the Fondazione Arena di Verona. Since 1998, Pacor has been a music consultant for the European Opera Center in Manchester. As the head of the «Donizetti Project,» he has presented works by the Italian composer in leading cultural centers across Europe. The project is one of the leading events within the framework of Liverpool being European Capital of Culture for 2008.