NEW YORK – Greek-American baritone Stefanos Koroneos has built an impressive career, performing all over the world in some of the most iconic character roles in opera. He is also the General and Artistic Director of Teatro Grattacielo, a New York opera company that specializes in works in the Italian operatic repertoire that are rarely heard in the United States. Koroneos spoke with The National Herald about his life and work, his Greek heritage, and his upcoming projects.
TNH: Did you always want to go into music and opera specifically?
Stefanos Koroneos: The answer is yes. I always wanted to go into music but at the very beginning not specifically opera. I was born in Athens but when I was in middle school we moved to Areopoli in Mani in the south of the Peloponnese. I remember daydreaming about music, well practically that’s how I spent my days together with studying and planning my future in the music industry, in general, but without a specific opera orientation at the beginning. The opera part came a bit later when I was living in Milano, Italy.
TNH: What are some of your favorite roles to sing?
SK: I fit a very specific category of roles, the so-called “character roles” or Buffo. The word buffo translates to a “comic actor in Italian opera.” These are the kind of roles I have been singing all my life all over the world. There are many roles that fit in this vocal category. I must say that the roles most close to my heart are three: Don Bartolo (a tyrant tutor) in The Barber of Seville, Dandini (a very flamboyant servant) in Cenerentola (Cinderella) and Dulcamara (a charlatan doctor) in Elisir d’amore.
TNH: What inspires you most in your work?
SK: What mostly inspires my work is the human aspect of it and the preparation of a new production. By preparation I mean the rehearsal period where an idea comes to become a show. This is the most creative period of our work. We singers arrive in the first day of rehearsals with a certain idea about the ‘personality’ of the role that we have been cast in. This idea then gets first worked together with the conductor during the musical rehearsals and then, during staging rehearsals, with the stage director that usually has a ‘concept’ about his/her production. It is the ‘marriage’ of those personalities and ideas that has always fascinated me. It’s about how you take three different ideas or personalities put them together in a role. The most important, and very fascinating, part of being an opera singer is the fact that we are not only singers but also musicians and actors – three elements that need to marry harmoniously together.
And, of course, I think I represent a lot of my colleagues in that I draw lots of inspiration from the public, or the atmosphere in the theater during a performance.
TNH: Does your Greek heritage inform your work? And if so, how?
SK: Since ancient times Greece has been the land of theater, music, arts, and humanities. We have it in our blood. You can’t escape from it. It’s something that I feel deep inside of me and even though life circumstances have brought me far from Greece (I lived 14 years in Italy before emigrating to the United States) I know that every time I go back to perform or just to visit my family I recharge and I get inspired emotionally and artistically.
TNH: Opera is such an international art form, with performers often traveling around the world, has the global pandemic affected your life and work?
SK: The answer is unfortunately yes. Our work and world is in halt right now. Theaters are closed and we are not so sure when they will be reopening again. The traditional way of creating an opera requires putting together an orchestra of 25 to 60 people, sometimes even more, then another 30 to 40 people in chorus, and, of course, soloists, stage hands, extras etc. This is not possible right now because of COVID-19 guidelines and I suspect it will not be possible for a while. It is also problematic from the audience standpoint. Theaters are not allowed to have more than a certain number of audience members each night. Certain opera companies have already started performing in a very limited capacity in Europe. But these are all companies that are state funded. In other words, they receive money from the state and are then required to put together a performance even in a limited capacity. In the United States, it is totally another story. Theaters here are 90% privately funded and they rely not only on private donations but also on ticket sales. This is our biggest problem right now. How can we get the public back into the theaters so that we can go back to performing and traveling!
TNH: How did you first become involved with Teatro Grattacielo?
SK: I have worked as a singer with Teatro Grattacielo since 2006. For me, this company was one of my “home companies” and I knew that almost every year I would have some work with them. I was first involved as Artistic Administrator this year I became Artistic Director of the company. It was a natural extension of the relationship that I have built with the company throughout these years. I will miss singing with them, even though I am still active as a singer with other companies, but I am excited for my new role and looking forward to what the future holds for me.
TNH: Do you have any upcoming projects in addition to those with Teatro Grattacielo?
SK: Most of my work as a singer has been moved to 2021. I should be going to Virginia in May 2021 to sing in La Boheme. For now, I am excited to be running Teatro Grattacielo and our Young Artists Program that is called Camerata Bardi Vocal Academy. We have just launched our very first International Voice Competition that opens in September 2020 and it will all be online. We are also planning to live stream two new productions, one in October and one in November 2020. Together with my team, I am creating a new business model to make sure that we, and opera, in general, are accessible and convenient today and in the future. With the hope, of course, that very soon we shall be going back to live performing.
Our Facebook pages are very active, we post a lot of music videos, blogs, news, and arts. We just finished collaborating with a pianist in Greece where we filmed a series of Italian regional songs. We publish one song every week. Next on our calendar, Greek regional songs in collaboration with Greek performers.
More information is available online:
The competition website: https://cameratabardi.org/en/giovanni-consiglio-competition/
Stefanos Koroneos’ personal website: www.Stefanoskoroneos.com
Teatro Grattacielo Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/teatrograttacieloNYC/?ref=bookmarks
Camerata Bardi Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CamerataBardiVocalAcademy/?ref=bookmarks.