Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Abominable Showman, September 16, 2012

No Greek tragedy
Montreal-bound Greek diva Myrto Papatanasiu leaves home to find international acclaim
By Richard Burnett
(Portrait photo courtesy L’Opéra de Montreal, Photos of dress rehearsal in Montreal by Yves Renaud, courtesy L’Opéra de Montreal)

The classic opera originated in Italy around 1600, but it’s also true they were modeled on the music of the ancient Greek tragedy. In other words, the Greeks invented opera. Ironically, the great Greek diva Myrtò Papatanasiu had to leave her home country to find the acclaim she deserved – a recurring theme many Canadian entertainers can identify with.

“I love going home and singing for my country but it doesn’t happen a lot,” Papatanasiu told me one recent evening following a rehearsal for L’Opéra de Montreal’s 2012-2013 season-opening production of Guiseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, which originally debuted in Venice back in March 1853. The soprano will perform the role of Violetta in her Montreal debut with L’OdeM.

“I don’t sing a lot in Greece,” Papatanasiu continues. “When you are in your own country they cannot see what you can do. Once you are doing these things in other countries, then they say, ‘Oohhhhh!!!! That’s our Myrto! That’s our baby!’ Then when you go home [afterwards] they expect too much. So it is always a big responsibility.”

Papatanasiu’s frank reply reveals a genuine passion. Papatanasiu has given hundreds of interviews over the course of her career but, like her fiery onstage performances, she doesn’t hold back offstage either, at least not with me. When I suggest the Italians originated the classic opera, she bristles. “Don’t forget the Greeks,” she says.

And indeed, in her native Greece, Papatanasiu grew up wanting to be a popular entertainer. Born in Larissa, Myrtò joined a local children’s choir at the ripe old age of four before going on to study piano, harmony and attended the Musicology University of Salonicco. “Singing in the choir was significant because it taught me to be a part of a group, like being in a theatre company. And back home my family was also very passionate about music – my parents actually met in a choir. So the stage for me was something very exciting from the beginning. Today I feel the same adrenaline performing like I did singing a solo in the choir when I was a child. I remember the adrenaline.”

After winning a scholarship from the Megaron of Athens, Papatanasiu went to Milan to study under Roberto Coviello. “He was instrumental technically, gave me [what I call] a male voice. He gave my voice colour, like a red wine. He taught me the Italian way to sing.”

Myrtò Papatanasiu has performed on the stages of some of the world’s most prestigious opera houses and festivals, including the Staatsoper Berlin, the Sydney Opera House, the Wiener Staatsoper, the New National Theatre in Tokyo, the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich, the Opéra de Monte Carlo and (of course) the Teatro dell’Opera di Roma where she starred in La Traviata – not once, but twice, in 2007 and 2009 – under the direction of living legend Franco Zeffirelli.

“We had great chemistry from the first time we met,” Papatanasiu says. “When you feel something it’s like a couple, but we worked like friends with lots of respect and with a lot of love. I was not intimidated but was trying to be natural because if you overdo it, they [your colleagues] withdraw. So with Franco I went with my instinct.”

That instinct has served Papatanasiu well. Earlier this year following her run as Violetta in La Traviata at The Dallas Opera, she was announced as the winner of their prestigious Maria Callas Award for best debut artist of the year. “When they told me I cried,” Myrtò says.

Then when I tell the tall and statuesque Myrtò Papatanasiu that she too is a diva – but in a glorious and good way – she tells me, without missing a beat, “I think a diva is when you are on the stage, giving what people expect to hear from you. You give your best performance. But off the stage I am a normal person, with all the fragilities and problems and loneliness. To be honest, I am happiest on the stage.”

Myrtò Papatanasiu stars as Violetta in L’Opéra de Montreal’s 2012-2013 season-opening production of Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata, at Salle Wilfred-Pelletier at Montreal’s Place des Arts, Sept 15-18-20-22, at 7:30 pm nightly. Running time: Three hours with two intermissions. Click here for tickets and more info.

Click here for the official Myrtò Papatanasiu website.

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