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City Portal, 8/5/2007

"Our goal was to draw in children and young people, so that they could discover the magical world of opera for themselves, and we succeeded," said Lisa Xanthopoulou, Artistic Director of Thessaloniki Opera about the 1st  "Pes Opera" Festival to Anastasia Grigoriadou and CITY magazine.

Is opera for children? Why, and what are the prerequisites?

The basic element of the multi-faceted art form that is opera is speech.  Many of the libretti of the works have their roots in the world of fairy tales. If the plot of an opera can be followed and is appropriate, then its musical interpretation can easily reach children, who are always a good "conduit" for melody, harmony, and rhythm.

How was the educational program "Pes Opera" initiated?  What was the idea, what was the goal?  Is the educational program of Thessaloniki Opera important to you and why?

On the one hand, I believe that a viable independent musical theatre in the Balkans must educate its future audiences, on the other hand, such education about opera simply does not exist. Our goal was to draw in children and young people so that they could discover the magical world of opera for themselves, and we succeeded. Our ambition is to offer our still-young audiences intellectual yet unforgettable experiences. It is worth noting that all our educational activities are offered free of charge, since they are funded by the cultural program "Politismos".

What has been your experience up to now, the educational programs' first year? What was the response of the public, both young and old?

Well above our expectations! I would like to report on the number of visitors to our productions and the participation of children in the program, which, of course, was also enthusiastically attended by adults:

20 junior high school students participated in Thessaloniki Opera's workshop on the opera Die Kluge by Carl Orff, which you will see at the festival. They worked amongst themselves, as well as with the crew of the production, on direction, set, and costumes.

65 schools from Thessaloniki and the surrounding districts took part in the  "Pes Opera" workshops.

300 children and young artists will appear at the Festival to display their talent and their love for this genre of music theater.

1500 children were introduced to the magical world of opera, in their own schools, by virtue of hands-on experience with opera provided by six specially trained performers-animateurs.

6000 children from Thessaloniki, the surrounding districts, and charitable institutions attended opera performances specially adapted for them.

What are your future plans for the educational programs of Thessaloniki Opera? How can these be best implemented?

We will continue our in-school educational workshops, since many schools that had requested to participate in the program unfortunately could not be included. As a matter of fact, we are planning to double the number of our animateurs, so as to be able to reach a greater number of schools every day. The best way to ensure a future for these workshops depends to a great extent on establishing a tradition for this type of program as well as the improvement in the collaboration between educators and the Opera.

Have you already worked with educators and others with regard to your educational and other programs? Do you intend to expand your collaborations and activities?

The Opera has already worked extensively together with the principal conservatories in the city, as well as with the deans of the universities and their music departments, with educational groups and associations, and has had the special support of the Municipality of Thessaloniki. The Opera has benefited greatly from its policy of reaching outward, communicating and collaborating with other cultural and educational bodies, especially since just a short while ago no one even knew of its existence.

In addition, we need to offer professional experience to the young. Up to now, this has only been possible by going abroad.

What can one see at the 1st "Pes Opera" Festival? To whom is it addressed?

Basically, it is a great celebration for children, combining games, performances, children's activities, surprises, as well as the communication of knowledge and experiences from the world of music theatre. It is not so much the artistic perfection of the production that is important, rather it is the creative efforts of 300 children. I believe that many adults have benefited and will benefit from our educational programs as well, inasmuch as they are often not much better versed in this art form than their children. I believe we will spot many adults in the hall where we will be presenting our new digital educational material, as well as browsing through our electronic opera guide for kids, and adults avidly playing the video game The Abduction from the Seraglio.

The events will culminate in a fireworks display that will light up the sky to the west of Thessaloniki!

Does the Festival aim to become an institution? What new form will it take? Are there examples of this kind of activity abroad?

Yes! That's why we named it the 1st Festival. The 2nd will be competitive and international. Such a grand celebration, a creative meeting of crowds of children and young people in the name of opera, a multi-faceted musico-theatrical happening by children for children will certainly be a major cultural event with an incalculable and long-lasting educational contribution. Similar ideas have been implemented frequently in many other countries.

Is there an audience for opera in the city of Thessaloniki?  Is this audience large enough to support opera productions and performances?  What could be done to support this audience and perhaps expand it?

The public of Thessaloniki is discerning, intellectually aware and demanding. It has shown its love for opera. If the Opera succeeds in acquiring its own "time and space" and its autonomy, its audience is guaranteed, especially since the citizens of northern Greece have tolerated the absence of such a cultural entity for so long, while even Tirana has an opera house.

Has Thessaloniki Opera solved its basic problems regarding lack of materials, technical staff, etc.?  What are your main priorities?  At this moment, what do you consider to be the greatest problem which you would like to see solved as soon as possible?

Thessaloniki Opera has evolved into a viable cultural entity, with a staff, organization, goals, and programming.  Unfortunately adequate management and technical cover are still lacking, as well as a venue of its own, one not subject to the programming of the State Theater of Northern Greece.  On February 23, 2007 its future autonomy was announced and its name changed to the STATE OPERA OF MACEDONIA-THRACE, under the proposal to be submitted by the Ministry of Culture. However, until this materializes, it is necessary for the State to come up with solutions so that the artistic integrity and function of the Opera is not totally dependent on the management of the State Theatre of Northern Greece.  This separation is something the State Theater also hopes for, but without taking steps to contribute to any sort of progress.

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