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AYLAIA Magazine, 2007

"From the outset, we realized that Thessaloniki Opera needed to reach out, the public needed to see it as an institution and opera itself as an art form."

- What priorities did you set in taking over the artistic direction of Thessaloniki Opera? What radical changes do you expect to initiate?

      "The first important priorities of the new administration were the creation of work areas, the staffing of the organization, the payment of debts from previous productions, and seeking out ways to successfully communicate and promote our goal of reaching out. All of these were achieved when the State did respond and increased funding. In brief, Thessaloniki Opera existed as an institution, but not as a functioning organization. The Opera acquired an Artistic Director for the very first time in September of 2005. After the basic staffing was accomplished, we began our artistic efforts. We designed our educational program "Pes Opera". I felt as if I was starting from scratch when I undertook my responsibilities, everything were unstable, uncertain. Thessaloniki Opera was based on an idea, and on the superhuman and dedicated attempts of previous administrations to create the foundations for a future independent opera house in Thessaloniki. In February 2007, it was with great joy that we heard the then minister announce the start of discussions proposing a law for the establishment, within a reasonable time frame, of the Macedonia-Thrace Opera. I hope that this proposal will quickly be introduced in Parliament. As far as radical changes are concerned I personally believe that we cannot accomplish "dazzling miracles" on a regular basis as long as political will does not free Thessaloniki Opera from the constraints of the State Theater of Northern Greece, which now controls its artistic decisions inasmuch as it provides the permission for the use of venues and dates for performances. We are forced to stage events at various venues in the city which are not suited to the genre of opera."

- How much money is required to put on a production?

      "In the state that Thessaloniki Opera finds itself today - since it does not have its own singers, its own orchestra, its own choir, its own services or its own space - our production costs are entirely based on outsourcing. This is an enormous amount of money, which will usually have to be paid for a mere six performances. In addition, the administrative and technical support provided by the State Theater of Northern Greece to Thessaloniki Opera is minimal, requiring much of the budget to be channelled towards freelance collaborators. It is definitely worth noting the fact that we are still being funded with a mere 4% of the amount of funding received by the Greek National Opera in Athens."

- Where do you find funding? Is the State your source?

      "When we took over, the State doubled our funding, but it still remains inadequate. However, the government does show a constant interest in our institution.  As of this year, we are actively soliciting sponsors."

- Do the Greeks have the requisite musical sophistication to allow them to follow and understand a musical genre as difficult as opera?

        "Difficult, no, unfamiliar, yes. Certainly, a general comparison of the classical music traditions in other countries to our own, which is minimal, shows that Greece has made great strides over the latter half of the 20th century. Many Greeks have spent time abroad in the past decades and broadened their experiences. However, comparing our country to say, Germany, would be unfair, since that country has a tradition in opera going back five centuries."

- Which of the best-known operas are favored most by the public?

       "The Greek public responds enthusiastically to operas which have music pleasing to the ear and libretti full of intense action and excitement.  Most of all, they love the composers of neighboring Italy."

- Who are your favorite composers?

       "I have countless favorite compositions, not composers.  Masterpieces have been written throughout the centuries; however, Romanticism, Post-Romanticism, and Impressionism are the periods which I can relate to best. Also, if I absolutely had to choose one composer, I would have to speak of that last precursor of Romanticism, Ludwig van Beethoven, who invigorates me whenever I study him."

- How many works have you conducted and which has been the best moment of your career?

       "I really can't calculate the number of works that I have conducted. I have conducted concerts and operas. Some of the happiest moments of my career have been the recognition of the sacrifices I have made in arriving where I am today, although there have also been particularly intense moments of musical excitement in rehearsal and on stage. Tears of joy do appear when I work together with performers whose talent is overwhelming. At such moments, I thank God for giving human beings this unique gift of communication, music."

- What does conducting mean to you?

       "Conducting means coordination. The conductor has the final responsibility for the interpretation of a work and its true and correct execution. This means being very well prepared, even knowing the work slightly better than its very composer ...Such knowledge, together with the inspired coaching of a work, is necessary, along with other things, for a conductor to gain the respect of an ensemble. Subsequently, the work must be conveyed to the orchestra, the soloists and the chorus. At some point, it all comes together, and the conductor's teaching role is completed at the final rehearsals, which take place on the stage. During the actual performances, the conductor, in addition to being an interpreter, acts as a "traffic cop", careful to prevent any potential "accidents" and guide along the various players by virtue of body language, thus keeping the performance flowing..."

- What do you wish for most in the immediate future?

       "Basically, I hope to be able to continue my efforts on behalf of Thessaloniki Opera and see them bear fruit. I want to see Thessaloniki Opera become autonomous!"

- What is your artistic dream?

       "I have dedicated myself to Thessaloniki Opera and would like at some point to devote some time to my own personal artistic development.  The dream of every maestro is to conduct at the most famous opera houses in the world and to work with the greatest orchestras. If I can hazard a metaphor: driving can be pleasant, but not so nice if the car has problems; some times it's expensive when - as a result of carelessness - you have to pay a fine or cover a sudden repair, or it can even be lethal - due to inexperience, or fate - when an accident occurs; often it can be annoying when there is a lot of traffic, even a nightmare when no parking spaces are available - but it is a joy in the car of our dreams, cruising along in the fast lane!"                                                              

                                                                                                                               Vasilis Papavasiliou

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