Greek National Opera and Eleni Calenos Delight in Athens

Vassiliki Karyanni (left), as the chambermaid Adele, joins Yannis Kalyvas as Gabriel von Eisenstein and Eleni Calenos as Rosalinde onstage at Stavros Niarchos Hall of the Greek National Opera. (Photo by Valeria Isaeva)

ATHENS – Institutions like the Stavros Niarchos Foundation (SNF) and the Onassis Foundation have helped bring a cultural renaissance to Athens despite a decade-long economic crisis, and the Greek National Opera at the SNF Cultural Center is a prime example.

On Friday, February 7 the premier of Die Fledermaus, the operetta by Johann Strauss II was more proof that musical and theatrical productions in Athens are world class, and the people who packed the wonderful new Stavros Niarchos Hall of the Greek National Opera showed that audiences are as supportive of the arts as the nation’s philanthropic organizations.

Die Fledermaus is a three-act comic operetta that revolves around the desire of Dr. Falke – played by baritone George Iatrou – to get his revenge on his friend Gabriel von Eisenstein (tenor Yannis Kalyvas), who one night abandoned Dr Flake, who was drunk and wearing a bat costume – hence the title – in the center of town, exposing him to ridicule.

Yannis Kalyvas as Gabriel von Eisenstein and Eleni Calenos, who played Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde, flank Yannis Kavouras as Dr. Blind in a comic scene in Die Fledermaus.

All the performers excelled musically and dramatically, led by soprano Eleni Calenos, who was radiant as Eisenstein’s wife Rosalinde, and Vassiliki Karyanni, delicious as her chambermaid Adele.

The audience, delighted by the Strauss’ dazzling overture, was excited as the rich, red curtain rose. The free time and space onstage before the story began provided the opportunity to present…’time and space’, tickling the imagination and memory of the audience. Two astronauts strutted Evzone-like in slow motion across the stage beneath a model of Sputnik, reminding of both the Strauss waltz near the beginning of 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the once crucial but all-but-forgotten ‘space race’, preparing the audience for a shift from Tsarist Russia when Die Fledermaus premiered in 1874 to the more recent Soviet Union. Some scenes unfold in the Soviet Embassy, the USSR being known for throwing the most dazzling embassy parties before its demise.
Time was also warped by the appearance of both contemporary and fin de siècle costumes. Indeed time, counter cultures, and social classes clashed as differently dressed groups of young people and adults often battled, most of them ending up in the jail that formed the set of the final scene. The hijinks that evoked near and distant history enriched the audience’s experience and showed off the company’s excellent corps de ballet.

The plot’s sugar and spice and “all’s well that ends well” spirit blended nicely with the bouncy Strauss tunes that some audience members found impossible to not whistle as they exited the house, accompanied by memories of the exceptional orchestra conducted by Yorgos Ziavras and the lyrics from Dimitris Dimopoulos’ fine translation.

Husband and wife Gabriel von Eisenstein (Yannis Kalyvas) Rosalinde (Eleni Calenos) confront each other about their infidelities before reconciling – Die Fledermaus is an operetta, not an opera, so it must have a happy ending. (Photo by Valeria Isaeva)

Alexandros Efklides was the director and Angela-Cleopatra Saroglou the associate director and the choreographer was Maria Kousouni. The sets were designed by Sotiris Stelios and the costumes by Alexia Theodoraki, and Melina Mascha was responsible for lighting design. Agathangelos Georgakatos was the chorus master.

Please note that different performers appear on alternate nights.

Calenos is well-known to New York’s Greek-American Community and her star is rising in the opera world. During the premier she lit up the community’s social media accounts as her friends in Athens reported her triumph and Greeks in New York posted congratulations.

Born in Thessaloniki, where she studied cello at the Municipal Conservatory, she continued her musical education with post graduate studies in singing at Queens College in New York and the Opera Institute of Boston University. Calenos now performs worldwide while focusing on the United States and Europe. She is feature is several recordings and has received numerous awards.