The Greek National Opera gala on Saturday was spectacular! It’s been some time since I’ve attended such a dramatic opera, and it was special for many reasons. Billed as the Athens “cultural event of the year,” the All-Star Verdi Gala featured outstanding, world-renowned artists:
- Soprano Anna Netrebko
- Mezzo-Soprano Anita Rachvelishvili
- Tenor Yusif Eyvazov
- Baritone Dimitri Platanias
The occasion for the gala was “celebrating the 150th anniversary of Aida’s world premiere in Cairo” on December 24, 1871. These four world-class opera stars have all “excelled in the Verdian repertoire”. They flawlessly performed scenes from Verdi’s operas Aida, Otello, Rigoletto, La Forza Del Destino, Il Trovatore, Don Carlo, and Macbeth. Stavros Niarchos Foundation sponsored the gala
The artists were accompanied by the Greek National Orchestra (GNO), conducted by distinguished French conductor Philippe Auguin. The orchestra performed impeccable overtures from Nubucco, La Forza Del Destino, and I Vespri Siciliani.
“Anna Netrebko is a soprano with star power in the best sense, a charismatic expressivity that pervades every element of her performance.” Anthony Tommasini, New York Times
The venue was massive Panathenaic Stadium, “located on the site of an ancient Greek Stadium”. The amphitheatre was almost half full. Getting to your seat wasn’t easy, with many levels of steep stone stairways to climb, and no handrails. Water bottles and cushions with labels that corresponded to seat assignments were placed at the location on each ticket. Social distancing was practiced, and masks were required. It was a hot day, but a refreshing Aegean Sea breeze graced the stadium and kept the audience cool.
During the 100+ minute performance, the audience was laser-focused on the artists, while intermittent light shows illuminated the stadium. I chatted with a friendly Greek couple during a short stretch-in-place break.
Anna Netrebko Soprano
Born in Russia in 1971, Anna Netrebko has “managed to leave an indelible mark on the roles she has performed at the globe’s most prestigious theatres”. Netrebko, “the most famous opera star in the world, became the first classical artist included in TIME’s 100 Most Influential People”.
“For many centuries, the Panathenaic Stadium hosted track and field games and festivals, including the first Olympic Games in 1896!”
“Within two decades, her riveting appearances at the leading opera houses and festivals of Europe, America, and Asia, multi-awarded recordings, numerous distinctions, and an explosive, vibrant, passionate personality brought her to the top. In 1996, long before she started her astonishing worldwide career, Anna Netrebko performed at a concert in Athens. After observing changes in her voice and through constant study, she left behind her bel canto and Mozart’s roles, and ventured into the more dramatic, highly-demanding repertoires of Verdi and Wagner.”
Anita Rachvelishvili Mezzo-Soprano
Ten years after her “triumphant debut at La Scala in Milan, Anita Rachvelishvili took the opera world by storm”. She’s truly a ”star of the new generation of opera singers, and every one of her performances is a prestigious event”. Rachvelishvili started her career in Georgia and “conquered leading opera houses and festivals, receiving triumphant reviews from international media and standing ovations from opera audiences all over the world”.
During her 2018 debut in Aida at the New York Metropolitan Opera, Anna Netrebko shared the stage with Anita Rachvelishvili. The “rare chemistry between the two protagonists hit the headlines on both sides of the Atlantic”. This “new encounter of the two leading opera singers on the stage in Athens at an All-Star Verdi Gala is a highly anticipated event”.
Yusif Eyvazov Tenor
Tenor Yusif Eyvazov started his career in Azerbaijan. After “completing studies in Italy, he starred at the world’s most prestigious opera houses and festivals, including the Royal Opera House London, Munich State Opera, Vienna State Opera, La Scala Milan, Opera National de Paris, and the Metropolitan Opera”.
Yusif appeared on recordings for Deutsche Grammophon. These include a complete recording of Puccini’s Manon Lescaut live from the Salzburg Festival, and with his wife, soprano Anna Netrebko, on their album Romanza.
Dimitri Platanias Baritone
“Renowned Greek baritone Dimitri Platanias continues the long tradition of Greek opera stars who stand out at the world’s leading opera houses. He’s a permanent collaborator of the Greek National Opera and one of the most popular artists in Greece. From the Kalamata Conservatory, where he took his first steps, to the Royal Opera House, where he stars almost every year. Platanias is one of the most acclaimed baritones of his generation, with special love for and dedication to the Verdian repertoire. His timbre, metallic voice, ardent performances, and careful choices of repertoire have been his passport to a successful career.”
Philippe Auguin Conductor
“Born in Nice, France, Phillippe Auguin is one of the most sought-after conductors worldwide. He studied conducting in Vienna and Florence and has been assistant conductor to Herbert von Karajan and Sir Georg Solti. From 2010 to 2018, he was music director of the Washington National Opera, in Washington DC. Auguin has led an extraordinary career conducting the most prestigious orchestras in the world’s major opera houses and festivals. During 2019/20, he was an “Artist in Residence” at the Greek National Opera, where he conducted Don Carlos, Tannhäuser, Nabucco, and La sonnambula.
“Eyvazov’s unique timbre, which the Los Angeles Times described as metallic, stentorian and markedly Italianate, and his extraordinary stage presence helped him carve out an exceptional career, including leading operatic roles and recitals.”
Duets and Quartet
At the end of the program, the artists came back for duets between Netrebko and Rachvelishvili and Eyvazov and Platanias, featuring well-known Verdi favorites. The four artists ended with a magnificent quartet. The crowd went absolutely wild for them, as well they should! It was a splendid performance!
Drama After the Opera
Most evening events in Athens begive after 9:00 p.m. The Verdi Gala started at 9:30 and ended close to midnight. I found myself in an unexpected drama, since for now with Covid restrictions, the Athens Metro and Trams stop running after midnight. The options were walking home in the dark, taking a bus, or trying to hail a taxi. As you can imagine, with the huge opera crowd, there was much competition for taxis. I walked quite a distance and then caught a bus. Since it was pitch dark and the bus pickup and drop-off points are different than the Metro and Trams, my orientation got fuzzy. Even with the help of a mapping app, it took time to sort it out. After walking through some dark sidestreets near my apartment, I finally made it home after 1:00 a.m.
It was an exciting evening!