GIUSEPPE VERDI - AIDA. The « Exotic Opera »
S.X.: Ms Xanthopoulou, how difficult is it actually for an artist to direct a cultural institution? Artistic directors are exposed to criticism. They rarely manage to satisfy everyone, rarely remain with an organization long enough to enjoy seeing the results of their efforts. Doesn't such a position require courage?
Lisa Xanthopoulou: It's true that the artistic director of such an organization in Greece is required to act as an accountant, economist, manager, diplomat, charismatic leader, lawyer, judge, psychologist, teacher, sociologist and prophet , impervious in body and soul to constant stress, as a deus ex machina, and much more - and all at the same time. The main concern that absorbs such a person is the constant responsibility to be taken for actions and decisions, mainly because, as you said, of constant exposure to criticism by just about everyone. I can accept any criticism as long as it is well intentioned and is intended to contribute to the improvement and the development of the institution which I direct and love. When the new administration took over Thessaloniki Opera, it was a completely subservient entity, housed in a small room, a separate but not independent part of a larger body, the State Theater of Northern Greece. Thanks to endless struggles, the Opera has now achieved some substantial progress. But the continuing dependence of the Opera on the decisions of the State Theater of Northern Greece is something that has exhausted us.
S.X.: Thessaloniki Opera is a pleasant surprise for our city, which is somewhat musically "deprived". What is your vision for this institution? Does it have a future in a country where classical music does not - it is said - receive the support it deserves from the State?
Lisa Xanthopoulou: The public of Thessaloniki is in my opinion the most demanding and discerning in the country. The cultural life of the city has grown in leaps and bounds in the last 15 years. Of course, the problem of a lack of a venue still remains, as well as the absolute necessity of adequate funding for cultural organizations, so that the cultural life of the city can continue to flourish, creating a tradition, a significant statement which is missing in regard to classical music. Thessaloniki and northern Greece need a permanent Opera House, and it is in this direction that current political will seems to be steadily bending. An Opera House should not be considered a dream, but rather as something quite self-evident.
S.X.: Allow me to say that, even though we are greatly impressed with the cast of AIDA (and we wish you much success), many people question the choice of foreign artists and are concerned that perhaps Thessaloniki Opera might well become an organization favoring foreign artists. Aren't there local young artists who could be recruited, rather than bringing in foreign performers?
Lisa Xanthopoulou: As I said before, I can accept criticism. This particular example is well-intentioned, as it encourages the employment of local artistic talent. Please believe me, though, when I say that this criticism is based on a lack of information. Those asking this question probably do not recall that last season, Thessaloniki Opera collaborated exclusively with Greek talent, both upcoming as well as renowned performers. Just look at the casts of the productions of Mozart's The Abduction from the Seraglio, Strauss' Die Fledermaus, and Orff's Die Kluge. In fact, in November 2006, we organized a master class, free of charge, with the participation of 30 young singers under the auspices of famous mezzo-soprano Christa Ludwig. Our educational program during the past school year introduced opera to some 7000 children. Recruiting foreign artists is often essential, due to factors that few people can even imagine. For example, it may well be that the Opera, while forced to wait for the approval of a venue, is unable to book the appropriate Greek artists in time, who then may no longer be available due to prior commitments to other cultural organizations. Perhaps a new cultural organization needs to look beyond its borders, something achieved through the participation of artists from abroad, and common practice at all opera houses throughout the world? There is absolutely no reason to feel that Greek artists are threatened by or are considered inferior when colleagues are recruited from abroad; many times the comparison is in their favor, or proves beneficial.