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Giorgos Koumendakis, the GNO’s new Artistic Director, held his first press conference today, Monday, February 20, 2017 at the GNO’s Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center.
Sixteen days after taking up his new post, Giorgos Koumendakis announced the program for the pilot season at the GNO’s Main and Alternative Stages at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (covering the period from March to July 2017), two GNO productions at the Odeon of Herodes Atticus Theater, and the Alternative Stage’s entire program for the 2017-2018 season, as well as the name of the production which will mark the official launch of the GNO at its new facilities. It is Richard Strauss’ Elektra, based on Sophocles same name tragedy; one of the most important and yet most demanding operas of the 20th century, with the participation of the world-class Greek mezzo-soprano Agnes Baltsa, conducted by Vassilis Christopoulos and directed by Yannis Kokkos.
Mrs. Lydia Koniordou, Minister of Culture & Sport, was originally scheduled to attend the press conference but had to remain in Italy in order to attend Jannis Kounellis’ funeral. In her letter sent to journalists she noted, “Were it not for this sad event, I would be with you now to express my deep trust in Giorgos Koumendakis and my certainty that his term in office will meet the major expectations we all have from him as Artistic Director of the GNO. His first choices, which he was kind enough to inform me about, have left me feeling excited. Within a short time period he has managed to put together a repertoire visionary in its scope and to enter into deals with leading artists, many of whom have never before collaborated with the GNO”.
Mr. Athanasios K. Theodoropoulos, Chairman of the GNO’s Board of Directors, made an introductory speech opening the press conference, stressing that, “today is particularly important for all of us at the GNO for one further reason: We are at the premises of the Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. Today’s press conference signals our official transition to our new cutting-edge facilities, just short of the ceremony to hand the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center over to the Greek State, which will take place three days from today, on Thursday, February 23”.
In his presence Giorgos Koumendakis began announcing the production which will officially launch the GNO’s presence at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center: “Before I reveal the name of the opera which will inaugurate our new home, I’d like to talk about the sense of emotion I feel about Agnes Baltsa accepting our invitation to star in our fist production. As you may know, this legendary Greek mezzo-soprano, who has enjoyed a unique international career, has never before collaborated with the GNO. I am very happy that this most important moment was found for this major collaboration, which is a great honor for us. Agnes Baltsa will perform the role of Clytemnestra in Richard Strauss’ Elektra, at our opening show. It is one of her most emblematic roles, which she has performed at leading theaters worldwide, having performed it recently in Vienna and Hamburg. This is the first time the GNO will stage Elektra and the symbolism operates on many levels, since we chose a work with a Greek theme, inspired by the myth of the house of Atreus, which plays a major role in our overall program for the next three years, but is also a 20th century work since one our intentions is to demonstrate that opera and musical theater did not come to an end with the 19th century. It is our great pleasure to have the internationally acclaimed Greek conductor Vassilis Christopoulos conduct this production, and sets and direction will be undertaken by the remarkable Yannis Kokkos. Elektra will premiere on October 15, 2017. The production has been made possible with kind sponsorship from the Mytilineos Group”.
The detailed program for the 2017-2018 season at the GNO’s Main Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center will be announced shortly. However the GNO’s Artistic Director did reveal a few things. He mentioned that, “in 2017-2018 we will have the honor of working on very interesting, unexpected productions, including productions with two leading Greek, internationally acclaimed stage directors, Theodoros Terzopoulos –in his first ever collaboration with the GNO− and Giannis Houvardas. It is also our pleasure to announce that our starring line-up will be complemented by the internationally acclaimed Greek singers Myrto Papathanasiou, Christina Poulitsi, Dimitris Tiliakos and Tassis Christoyannis. I am also delighted that after so many years I will have the chance to work again with a companion from my early years, Dimitris Papaioannou, here at the Greek National Opera. Dimitris has never worked with the GNO before and I feel certain that everything which will come from this partnership will form a unique chapter in the GNO’s artistic history, and will mark the start of a very interesting direction for the GNO”.
He stressed that he has commenced the procedure to appoint a Financial and Administrative Director and is also engaged in drafting the new organizational chart for the GNO, which will reflect international standards for opera houses worldwide, but will also safeguard the vested employment rights of all those who work for the GNO.
One issue the new Artistic Director focused on was his approach to the role of GNO Artistic Director over the next three years. He pointed out that gaps in the opera repertoire will be filled with works from the 20th century, as well as pieces from the baroque, classical, German, Russian and French repertoires; Greek creative output will be encouraged by commissioning new works; and robust artistic forces within the country will be utilized, as the GNO builds a new closer relationship with the public. He said a top priority was to showcase the GNO’s special features so that it could participate on an equal footing in international opera developments, making it clear that he will take an interest in the staging of opera as much as the musical side, developing partnerships with cutting-edge directors, and utterly ignoring the false dilemma between modern and traditional stagings of works. On the question of co-productions he raised the issue of equality and shared artistic decisions.
Referring to the three bodies which co-exist side by side at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (GNO, Greek National Library and SNFCC S.A.), he stressed that, “It’s vital for us to find ways to come together, but for each to retain its autonomy, independence and own style, while at the same time creating a very robust combination for new spectators / visitors, who may want to find out what is being offered inside and outside these building after having seen this remarkable project unfold. If one of the three bodies stays within its own microcosm, that will harm not just it but its other fellow residents as well. The culture of cooperation is not well-engrained in Greece. We always tend to find reasons for in-fighting. But here I believe that have been given an important opportunity to show that we can collaborate in productive ways, discuss our differences, listen to the other, and build a shared vision. I believe that the management team of both the Library and of SNFCC S.A. share the same concerns, think along the same lines, and that makes me very optimistic that despite the problems which may arise, something truly stable −something with an eye to the future and future generations− can emerge”.
Alexandros Efklidis, the Alternative Stage’s new Artistic Director, presented the Alternative Stage’s detailed program, pointing out that, “The program we are presenting is the result of all the groundwork we did over the last two years, to create the Alternative Stage from scratch. The Alternative Stage has been born into difficult times and must provide a demanding program with few resources and a limited budget”