BROOKLYN – The fans of opera love their art form passionately, but to thrive in America it must attract new fans, especially among the young.
That calls for new ideas –LoftOpera is generating them in Brooklyn– and fresh talent like Eleni Calenos, who brought her passion and fine soprano voice from Greece.
Born in in Thessaloniki and arriving in the opera world after studying cello and piano at the Municipal Conservatory of Thessaloniki, Calenos is ready for her debut in the thrilling but demanding title role of Puccini’s Tosca.
LoftOpera is just that, opera performed in the edgy and intimate spaces once reserved for manufacturers and artists.
“It is very exciting…they are young and they do more alternative productions,”
she said, and agreeing that it is a great way to connect with new audiences.
At loftopera.com there is information about the company and Calenos’ upcoming performances.
She is thrilled to be able to perform in an intimate environment, in close contact with the audience. “It’s all happening right there – there is very little distance between you and the audience – an interactive experience.”
This will be her debut as Tosca, one of her favorite operas. “There is a lot of great music – Puccini is my favorite composer – and I have sung a lot of his roles, including Madama Butterfly and Mimi in La Boheme.”
She is excited to debut in this role, telling TNH “I have prepared carefully, and I am really going to enjoy it.”
She explained that “as a performer you have to pick the when the right time is” in one’s life to perform a certain role.
“I think it’s the perfect timing” for Tosca she said.
“You have to do your, homework, study the role – she watched and listened to Maria Callas recordings of course – but not push yourself beyond your limits if you are not ready. The timing includes being mature as an artist, mastering the technique.”
MAKING IT LOOK EASY
And mastering the body. Studying the Alexander technique and yoga helped her with the body awareness that is vital during a performance.
She also explained that opera is a hybrid art form that requires if not compromises, tradeoffs on what to focus on.
“There are many opinions on where to focus. Some say theater, others singing – I say singing comes first…if you allow the acting to affect the singing you may be caused to sing” in an awkward way. “You have to be able to always find the balance – you can’t sing as if there is no character and you can’t act and forget that you are singing.”
Losing the focus on the voice can be disastrous “because everything is a chain reaction and the more I familiarize myself with how my whole body functions, the more subtle” her art becomes.
In opera, the singers can’t stick to the posture that maximizes vocal performance. They must express anger, fear, despair, joy and turn to face both threats and the entreaties of love.
Eleni Calenos as Cio-Cio San in Giacomo Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with Ash Lawn Opera.
There are many aspects to a performance.
“Yes, it’s the music but also the text, the character, acting, movement…you have to put all of them together without disturbing the art form. Breath is number one, but the slightest movement can affect the body’s balance. A singer must observe where her weight is, her relationship to the Earth, how she is breathing.”
“If your larynx rises” in response to an emotion or a movement, “that is a no-no in classical singing.”
As if those were not challenging enough, the art form demands that “you must make it look as if anyone can do it.”
Calenos became a professionally managed singer in 2010 and since then has performed the United States and Europe. She is proud to have sung in the recent sold out New Year’s Opera Gala at Athens’ Megaron concert hall.
Her mother, Kalliope, was born in Thessaloniki and her father, Kosmas, in Drama – both have roots in Asia Minor and Constantinople. Her sister Anna Kalaitzidou is an established actress in Athens, performing in theater and in films.
“My parents appreciated the value of education and from a young age we started exploring different possibilities…It was a lot of work, including music theory and performance studies… I played cello for the Municipal Orchestra of Thessaloniki for a couple of years.”
She aslo performed folk and traditional Greek music with famous Greek singers, which prompted her to take voice lessons. “As I saw my voice unfolding and seeing that there was potential I started feeling the need to explore singing classical music” but she was not yet familiar with the world of opera.
“I went to Queens College for a master’s in vocal performance and began auditioning after I graduated,” she said, and then got a scholarship to the Opera Institute of Boston University.
“I have a weak spot for Madama Butterfly…I really like dressing in a kimono – but I think every opera I perform is my favorite.”
Eleni Calenos as Mimi in Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème with the Madison Opera of Wisconsin.