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Music

Eleni Calenos Featured in Tribute to Maria Callas in Athens

ATHENS – The centennial of the birth of Maria Callas – the renowned soprano known as La Divina was born December 2, 1923 – was joyously celebrated at the Filippos Nakas Conservatory in Kolonaki of Athens with a recital by international soprano Eleni Calenos accompanied by Dionysis Mallouhos.

Both artists greeted the audience and provided welcome background, noting that the first half was a tribute to ‘song in general’ while the second part was devoted to Callas’ remarkable career and the music she shared with the World.

The performance of Calenos, who is well-known to the Greek-American musical community, drew away the veil on some of the ‘Callas miracle’ as the audience could sense the text of the operas and songs, as well as her personal life experiences, passing through her mind and beautifully informing the singing, showing that opera  at its best really is ‘music drama’ in the words of Wagner and prompting thoughts like  “ah, that’s how they do it!”

International Soprano Eleni Calenos and Dionysis Mallouhos presented a musical tribute to Maria Callas on January 17. (Photo by Constantine Sirigos)

Artists like Calenos who combine musicianship and excellent acting  – Callas’ own ability was legendary in this regard – don’t merely sing, they express the essence of characters, presenting to audiences Desdemona and the protagonist of Madama Butterfly and the like not by ‘performing roles’ but becoming those persons, demonstrating that mind and soul in an artist are at least as important as fine technique – combined, of course, with passion.

Calenos chose to ‘light the fire’ of musical passion from the start, rather than first revealing the musical colors her voice is capable of, but those hues emerged after all in the flame kindled onstage by Seven Traditional Songs of Manuel de Falla.

The well-chosen subsequent pieces also reveal her dexterity with highs and lows, light and dark, loud and soft especially, the ‘Salce-Ave Maria’ from Verdi’s Othello, with its dramatic blending of sweet tones suggesting caresses, and then of Desdemona’s growing fear, culminating in Calenos’ shattering musical cry revealing a love destroyed and passion turned to terror.

The transcendent ‘Ave Maria’ which followed was one of the recital’s highlights – joining the sublime  ‘Ombra di Nube’ of Licinio Refice.

There was also the close of the scene from Giacomo Puccini’s classic: Bowing her head after her voice becomes silent, a radiant Calenos onstage… is Madama Butterfy.

International Soprano Eleni Calenos and Dionysis Mallouhos presented a musical tribute to Maria Callas on January 17. (Photo by Constantine Sirigos)

Mallouhos , a passionate yet thoughtful and skilled accompanist, also shined in his solo performances with pieces by Domenico Scarlatti, Gianni Constantinides, and Pietro Mascagni.

As Calenos explained, the selections reflected the composers’ reverence for folk music, which was highlighted by Mallouhos. Prior to recognizing the beloved song ‘Thalasaki Mou – My Dear Sea’ surely listeners thought to themselves of his evocative playing: ‘ah that is like the waves on my beach… those passages are like the pebbles.”

The recital also included some powerful songs from popular musicals. Calenos touched many hearts in the audience with the poignant ‘Somewhere’ from Bernstein/Sondheim’s West Side Story, evoking memories of the first time they heard it, and with ‘Can’t Help Lovin that Man’ from Kern/Hammerstein’s revolutionary 1927 musical ‘Show Boat’, she showed her gift for making songs ‘her own’ that have been heard many times performed by numerous artists.

The thrilled audience’s applause was rewarded with several encores, the last culminating in a beatific smile by Calenos that indicated all that was left to hear was “good night.” Indeed it was.

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