Opera Gala of the Katia Paschou Project Thrills Athens Audience

Ebullient Soprano Katia Paschou invites audience to sing along at the conclusion of the concert. (Photo by TNH/Constantine Sirigos)

ATHENS – Opera in Greece is called Lyriki Skini, and those who know it, love it. The Katia Paschou Project promotes the art form born in Renaissance Europe but inspired by ancient Greek drama, and at its recent Gala at the B&M Theocharakis Foundation for the Fine Arts and Music in Athens, the adults whose tickets helped fund the Project reveled in the immediate reward of a thrilling evening filled with their favorite arias and duets.

Titled The Great Arias of Opera, the event featured Greek National Opera performers and rising stars, including Katia Paschou, founder of the Project. Joined by piano accompanist Markos Kotsias, Paschou graciously thanked the audience and occasionally spoke about the historic and musical background of the transcendent music.

The Project also assists and inspires young singing students, some of whom already sing professionally, including soprano Madeleine Harcourt and tenor Giannis Alexopoulos, who sang at the Gala. The latter is also Protopsaltis at the Hosios Loukas Monastery, renowned masterpiece of Byzantine architecture.

In the small but excellent auditorium, with all the guests but a few steps from the singers rather than across a vast hall, the performance was a revelation. Guests could literally feel Harcourt’s voice piercing their hearts with its passion and pathos when she sang Puccini’s O Mio Babbino, and Paschou’s warm soprano physically enveloped and embraced her listeners during the Sull’ Aria from Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro.

Left to right: Markos Kotsias, Anthony Koroneos, Giannis Alexopoulos, Eleni Davou, Madeleine Harcourt, and Katia Paschou. (Photo by TNH/Constantine Sirigos)

When Paschou’s voice blended in duets with Harcourt or Mezzo Soprano Eleni Davou, what was engendered was also palpable, like feeling two souls knitting together, radiantly fulfilling the composers’ intentions. Later, Davou’s notes from Massenet’s Werther resonated powerfully in the small hall.

Everyone on stage also displayed acting ability, including Kotsias. The fine accompanist, who paid meticulous attention to the singers and the music, with subtle glances and gestures from the keyboard, deepened the dramatic experience.

The tenderness and imminent sense of tragedy evoked by Paschou’s Madama Butterfly as it becomes clear that a young girl’s dreams of happiness are about to be permanently shattered seized her listeners with their poignance and lyricism.

With the concert approaching its inevitable end that no one in the audience wanted to come – you never saw so many faces beaming with joy at a concert with so many tragic elements – Davou ‘killed’ the Habanera of Bizet’s Carmen the way only a fiery Mezzo femme fatale could.

And there was also a philosophical air permeating the musical and theatrical atmosphere. The musical and acting ability of the cast revealed essence of l‘amour, singing the tragic truth that falling in love can be as much a death wish as the finding of the soulmate that fulfills a life.

The musical selections were excellent. A number of songs were famous to non-aficionados as instrumental pieces, and hearing their lyrics was also revelatory – as was the case with Gounod’s Romeo & Juliet.

With evening drawing to a close and the stage dripping drama and trauma, the selections turned more upbeat.

Koroneos delighted with Donna e Mobile from Verdi’s Rigoletto, and the entire ensemble gathered for the thrilling Libiamo from the beloved Italian composer’s La Traviata, the power of the music and the voices of the performers lifting the sprits of the entire audience.

The Project fulfilled one of its main aims – that of connecting artists and audiences – after the performance, when, urged by the charming Paschou, the spectators participated in a sing-along reprise of the evening’s favorite pieces.