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Culture

Babis Velissarios on His Upcoming Debut at Carnegie Hall

September 23, 2022
By Fotis Kaliampakos

NEW YORK – Lyrical tenor Babis Velissarios spoke with The National Herald about his career and his upcoming debut at Carnegie Hall on Saturday, September 24, 8 PM, in the tribute concert to the late iconic Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.

TNH: Let’s start at the end. How do you feel about your upcoming debut at Carnegie Hall, the legendary stage whose name inspires awe among artists considering the renowned artists of the past who have graced it?

Babis Velissarios: I am very happy to return to New York for the second time, the first was in November 2011 at the invitation of my uncle Stylianos Manis (Steven Manners). I am honored and in awe to be given the opportunity to sing in a great hall of world fame and glamour, with beloved fellow singers and musicians to honor Mikis of Greece and the world.

TNH: What is your relationship with Miki Theodorakis?

BV: We met Mikis Theodorakis at the rehearsals that took place before the grand concert, organized in his honor at the Kallimarmaros stadium in Athens in 2017, with him conducting for the last time. I will never forget the look of this great man, as he conducted, he was like a child who took a new toy in his hands, he had a great yearning and love and through his simplicity he shared with 50,000 people something unique. In hindsight there were times when we spoke on the phone, I treasure the words I heard like the rarest treasure, I thank him and I will always honor him, wherever and however needed.

TNH: What is your relationship with the music of Mikis Theodorakis? In your opinion, apart from honoring the memory of the great Greek composer, what is its significance for us today?

BV: Mikis Theodorakis was and is a global symbol of peace and culture, culture in the deepest sense of the word “culture” which means cultivation. It is of great importance and the reproduction of his work must continue, the verses of the poets he set to music reach the next generations, we must restore human values.

Babis Velissarios. Photo by Jerry Apostolatos

TNH: Tell us a little about the other performers and the musical selections of the concert.

BV: There are many and I’m afraid I’ll forget someone (!). It’s definitely very nice that I will sing once again next to my childhood hero and now my friend Kostas Makedonas, I can’t wait to sing for the first time with Iro, with Saveria (Margiola), it’s always the same joy as the first time because it’s for a very talented being and an excellent colleague at all levels. The musicians of the Mikis Theodorakis Popular Orchestra are all excellent, some of them we have known and worked with for several years. There is, of course, the group of kids I’m going to meet soon who live in America. Last I left the presenter of the evening, Haris Romas, since we have known each other for a while, he is really as nice as he is a great artist.

TNH: The New York public will therefore have the opportunity to enjoy the work of Mikis Theodorakis on Saturday, September 24 at the famous musical intersection of 57th Street and 7th Avenue. Let’s move on to your own remarkable and perhaps unusual singing career. How did you discover your musical talent? Where did you take your first steps?

BV: I consider myself very lucky because this profession chose me before I chose it. From a very young age I sang and had all kinds of artistic concerns. From the very first steps, I was very close to Thanasis Polykandriotis, Mimis Plessas, but closer than anyone to Vicky Moscholiou, a great singer, an important teacher for me. The decoding of the lessons I learned during the collaboration continues to this day.

Regarding the theme “Tenor”, it came about when I was 19 years old while I was studying acting at the Mary Traga Vogiatzis drama school. After graduating from the drama school, they followed monody studies (diploma 2007) and postgraduate studies in Vienna.

In the meantime, my collaboration with the National Opera had already begun, first as a supporting actor and then as a chorister. It’s incredibly difficult for someone to be a tenor if they don’t understand that they’ve been given only one gift in life… to be a tenor. On the other hand, it is incredibly easy if he understands it and works hard every day for the rest of his life. This is also my goal to have the health and mind to continue with the same dedication to my study of singing and music.

TNH: It seems that you move comfortably between different genres of music, from opera, as a member of the National Opera for decades, to artistic and popular Greek song.

BV: Music is one thing, that’s what I was taught by my teachers and by the great collaborators I’ve had over the years. The difference among the aspects of music is in the little time we have been given how deep you will “dig” to discover the treasures and knowledge and with the appropriate technique to be able to transmit it to the world. The singer is the medium between common composer, lyricist-poet and the era.

Babis Velissarios. Photo: Courtesy of Babis Velissarios

TNH: What is your working method? How do you evolve musically? How do you approach a piece that is new to you? How do you approach a piece that is already known to the public by distinguished singers of the past?

BV: It’s very simple. Even a song that I have sung 1000 times, I study it from the beginning, thoroughly searching each performance and re-performance for something that has escaped me, I always find something new by returning to the starting point of the study.

TNH: On your YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/xbelis can one follow all these aspects of your career? What is your relationship with the public and how has it been affected by this ability to be present in every home through the internet?

BV: My relationship with the audience is something that is built moment by moment through my performances for 27 years that I have been singing. However, my presence on television shows played a decisive role, through which I was able to come into contact with people even outside of Greece. I want to say a big public thank you to a good friend and partner who is no longer with us, Vasilis Laskaris, who very selflessly gave me this platform.

TNH: You already talked about your relationship with Mikis Theodorakis. Any other people who influenced your path?

BV: I couldn’t help but mention the composer Dimitris Papadimitriou, who initially entrusted me with the song “Otan ola perasoun” with poetry by Manolis Anagnostakis, which was incorporated into the popular and beloved by the public series “Logo timis”. Our collaboration culminated in Moby Dick (the biggest musical production ever made in Greece) a production of Onassis Culture. Dimitris’ gifts to me, a wonderful song and a role (Captain Ahab) highlighted my vocal and performance skills to the greatest extent so far.

TNH: What are your upcoming plans?

BV: Coming from four great concerts, in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus a tribute to Dimitris Papadimitriou, in the ancient theater of Dios with poetry set to music, a tribute to Iakovos Kambanellis that I have long wanted to do, and finally in the old fortress of Corfu in a tribute to Mikis Theodorakis with his symphony orchestra, I am ready and looking forward to the big moment on September 24th at Carnegie Hall with the Mikis Theodorakis Popular Orchestra and a great group of colleagues. I can’t wait, and hope everyone has a great show.

It should be noted that Stylianos Manis (Steven Manners), a prominent member of the Greek community in New York, was, among other things, for many years in charge of the security of the Greek parade on 5th Avenue. He was one of the first victims of the coronavirus, passing away at the age of 76 in March 2020. This interview is dedicated to him and to Eleftherios Velissarios, unfortunately absent from his son’s Carnegie Hall debut, and also prematurely lost.

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