The conductor Lisa Xanthopoulou speaks about the new production of Thessaloniki Opera
Paris Konstantinidis: On February 10th, Johann Strauss' operetta Die Fledermaus will open at the Theater of the Foundation for Macedonian Studies. Would you like to tell us a little about the plot and the production?
Lisa Xanthopoulou: Die Fledermaus is the carnival disguise of Dr. Falke, who, drunk and abandoned by his friend Eisenstein, wakes up one morning in the street after an evening of carnival carousing. Falke takes his revenge on his friend for this prank a year later, exposing him to a series of unpleasant but amusing - for the audience - surprises.
Die Fledermaus is traditionally performed in Vienna and in theaters the world over during the Christmas and New Year holidays. Thessaloniki Opera decided to present it now because this is the time slot that the State Theater of Northern Greece granted us for the use of the Theater of the Foundation of Macedonian Studies - for the second consecutive year. The cast of this production is exclusively Greek; first, because the performance is in the Greek language, and second, because we want - to the extent possible - to work with artists from our own country. The director of our production is Zachos Terzakis and the sets and costumes are designed by Apostolos Vettas. The Thessaloniki Chorus is participating in a Thessaloniki Opera production for the first time, while, after many years, we are working with the Symphony Orchestra of the Municipality of Thessaloniki. The Municipality's Cultural Department is providing their staff musicians free of charge. And I must note that our collaboration has been excellent.
P.K.: Do you believe that today this work simply depicts the life of the bourgeoisie in the capital of the Austrian Empire, or does it contain timeless human values, insecurities, passions, weaknesses and ambitions?
L.X.: Yes, I believe it is absolutely timeless, as marital - even platonic - infidelity, the thirst for amusement, the need to forget daily drudgery, and the search for happiness are all here with us today. Though I must say that in 1870, the champagne parties and dances in three quarter beat provided a better quality entertainment than what we have today. Anyway the economic crash of that period drove the bourgeoisie to letting off steam through frenzied entertainment; something which I think also characterizes contemporary Greek society.
P.K.: What will be your approach to this operetta as far as direction, costumes, and sets are concerned? Will it be a classical approach or will you be emphasizing certain aspects? And why did you choose your approach?
L.X.: The directorial approach is classical; its purpose is to entertain, rather than to burden the audience with various hard-to-understand messages. On the contrary, the sets contain various riddles, which the spectators are called upon to decipher for themselves if they wish.
Most of the costumes come from the wardrobes of the State Theater of Northern Greece and the Opera itself, while the rest of them, as well as the sets, were produced in the workshops of the State Theater. For the music, we tried to remain true to the Viennese tradition.
P.K.: One could say that, in a way, the music forms a psychological outline of the characters. Would you like to briefly describe the character of the protagonists?
L.X.: Eisenstein is the arrogant, na¨ve, philandering husband, Rosalinde, his mature, clever but deceived wife. Alfred is the crazy, torrential tenor. Falke is the devious plotter of revenge. Frank is the uncouth, emotionally starved civil servant; Adele is the ambitious chambermaid, affected and sly. Frosch is the prison warden, always drunk and seeing double. Bild is the stuttering lawyer, Orlofski, the extremely wealthy, melancholy prince, and Ida, the naїve dancer.
P.K.: The maestro can either emphasize or play down certain aspects by the way in which he or she interprets the score. As a female maestro, how do you approach Rosalinde? Do you believe that a conductor's gender - bearing in mind other performances - can influence his or her interpretation?
L.X.: Gender is a biological issue; the music that flows through our veins knows no gender. My musical interpretation of Rosalinde, or any other character, for that matter, could never be influenced by the fact that I am a woman. When I am at the podium conducting the Csárdás, I am possessed by Greek perseverance and Hungarian passion...
P.K.: Tell us about Thessaloniki Opera. How was the institution created? What has it accomplished to date? What problems does it face?
L.X.: Thessaloniki Opera, before the new Supervisory Board and Administration took over, operated out of a small dressing room provided by the State Theater of Northern Greece for the activities of the Board and a secretary. Although battles were fought in order to establish this institution, one could never consider this cell of the State Theater as an organization in its own right. That's what we, the Supervisory Board, my colleagues, and I, are trying to achieve. Our goals are many, and we are trying to achieve them simultaneously, so that we can make Thessaloniki Opera autonomous as soon as possible.
The co-existence of the two entities (the State Theater and Thessaloniki Opera) under one roof, the scanty administrative and technical services available to the Opera - because of the absence of a clear legislative mandate - but above all, the fact that our artistic output and the time/space factor are decided by the Artistic Directorate of the State Theater are the main problems of our Organization, which we hope to solve in the not too distant future by perseverance; we have already proven ourselves to be very patient.
P.K.: Would you like to tell us about your educational program? In your opinion, how is it being received by the children?
L.X.: Within the framework of its educational program "Pes Opera", Thessaloniki Opera organizes a series of activities for children and young people in the city. These include performances for children such as Ravel's opera, L'Enfant et les Sortilèges which was performed in November 2006 at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki in collaboration with the European Opera Center, and the performance of Mozart's opera, "The Abduction from the Seraglio" in the form of puppet theatre with the simultaneous appearance of live singers on stage at the Aneton Theater in December 2006. This production was offered free of charge to some 6000 students in our city and northern Greece, as well as to charitable institutions.
The program includes workshops for children in primary and secondary schools that take place exclusively on the premises of the participating schools. All activities are designed exclusively by age group, and attempt to take a multi-faceted approach to the musical form of opera from the perspectives of acting, sets, costumes, music and stage presentation, based on the Greek language adaptation of Engelbert Humperdinck's Hänsel und Gretel. It covers 15 hours of teaching over a period of three days. The animateurs of these workshops have been selected from amongst the specialized collaborators of the Opera, which also supplies all necessary materials.
Also included in the program is a workshop for high school students, giving them the opportunity through the medium of puppet theatre to learn about and experience the world of opera. This workshop is based on Carl Orff's opera Die Kluge and includes direction, set construction and costume design, as well as the manufacture and handling of puppets.
The "Pes Opera" program is co-funded by the European Union (Operational Program for Culture) and is under the auspices of the "Education and Culture" umbrella of the Greek Ministry of Culture.
One thing is certain, and that is that children are eager for these types of activities, which, in a simple and viable way, allow them to acquaint themselves with this multi-faceted musical genre. At the same time, they are given the opportunity to function as a team in a unique group art form, thus creating and developing their imagination. A positive indication that our efforts are successful is the number of high schools wishing to attend performances of Die Fledermau,s as well as the number of schools including opera in their end of year events.
P.K.: What can we expect from Thessaloniki Opera in the immediate future?
L.X.: Its autonomy, I hope. So much work, so much love, patience and perseverance must surely lead somewhere.
Paris Konstantinidis, Musicologist