Greek Tosca at the Sydney Opera

Internationally sought-after soprano Alexia Voulgaridou is in Sydney for a leading role in Opera Australia's Tosca

For an internationally highly sought-after soprano, and someone whose voice has been heard at the most prestigious opera houses, from La Scala Milano to the Sydney Opera House, Alexia Voulgaridou is a breeze to talk to. Her remarks when hearing Greek in the background of the Neos Kosmos office are enough to tell you how much she misses Greece.

However, with her international career reaching its peak, she is used to calling every place where she performs home. Her bases – or better to say, the places where she changes suitcases, on the road from one famous opera house to another – are Munich, in Germany, and the hills of Tuscany. The latter, by the way, is where her spouse, an antique dealer, is waiting for her when she has days off from her full-time international engagements.

As Alexia tells Neos Kosmos, everything started from her hometown of Kavala. The famous Philipon theatre in Kavala was the seed of young Alexia’s wish to be on the stage, even though no one from her family had anything to do with classical music. It was only her paternal grandfather, she recalls, who had a great voice. With his mouth closed, she tells, he would produce sounds “out of this world”.

For Alexia, piano lessons came first. Soon after she found herself studying both voice at the National Conservatory in Athens, and law at Athens University. Once she realised that what she actually wanted to do was be on the stage and sing, she went to Munich. There, she was given an opportunity to have well known Greek mezzo soprano and voice teacher, Daphne Evangelatos, listen to her sing.

“It was like she took a sponge and erased everything that I had learned before. We started all over again, from the very beginning, from the first steps – studying nothing but technique and voice. I auditioned and was one of the seven admitted to the Musikhochschule in Munich that year, out of 480 candidates from around the world. I was lucky enough to be accepted in Professor Evangelatos’ class,” Alexia tells Neos Kosmos.

To be talented and have a good voice, fortunately or unfortunately – as Alexia puts it – is not enough for someone to become an opera singer. The necessary skills to be met are to stand out and to have an extraordinary technique.

“Without that, you’re barefoot. Then, you have to have a personality and be balanced – otherwise there is no way you can survive in this field. You have to be educated, as you have to express other people through different roles. My education, serious and substantial, happened in Munich, in the hands of Daphne Evangelatos, who still continues to be my tutor. Whenever I have a new role, we meet to develop the role, we mould it from all sides, alongside Daphne’s husband, Mr Stephanos Gazouleas, a great conductor and pianist,” Voulgaridou explains.

It was the role of Mimi in the Bregenz Opera Festival’s La Bohème that brought international attention to Voulgaridou. Since then, she has performed in major theatres around the world, building her international reputation through roles as Violetta in La Traviata, Pamina in The Magic Flute, Mimi in La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly, Carmen and many others, while working with renowned conductors like Riccardo Muti, Zubin Mehta, Lorin Maazel and Sir Colin Davis to name a few.

You realise just how big Voulgaridou’s devotion and passion for opera and the stage is when you hear – coming from her mouth – not so sweet words to describe what she is doing.

“It requires from you to have the ultimate control of yourself. To know where your limits are; to cross them from time to time, but not to overdo it. If you mishandle your only tool in this job – the two poor little vocal cords you have – you will pay for it as well. If you want to have a continuous career, and not just last as a shooting star, then you have to carefully choose what you perform, your repertoire, in order to protect your great instrument – your voice. You have to be calm, to know what you need as an artist in order to give your best to each production. And this is what you learn from experience. You have to be charismatic, unique, different – the whole package matters. And above all, you have to be genuine. If you are genuine, and if you sing and perform with true feelings and an open soul, the audience – whether with a knowledge of opera and classical music or not – can feel that. That’s what makes one opera singer different from another,” she says.

The most precious feeling for the soprano is when she walks out on stage. Alexia Voulgaridou disappears; she becomes what she sings. There is no beginning, middle, or end. For the artist, the best feeling is when the performance comes to an end, and you are aware that you have given the best you could.

“You always try to keep the level high. However, we are human beings, we have our good and bad days. The tempo is simply exhausting and often more than a person can bear.”

This July and August, as she performs at the Sydney Opera House stage, Sydney is Alexia’s home. This is where the Kavala born soprano will take on the role of Puccini’s Tosca, in Opera Australia’s winter production. Already the opera star has taken on the role for the Italian Tosca, for which she was critically acclaimed.

It is Voulgaridou’s first big production in Australia, but not her first performance down under. Her Australian debut came in 2006, when she sang the role of Magda in Puccini’s La Rondine under Gianluigi Gelmetti.

And for all those who will say that opera and classical music are just ‘not their thing’, Alexia says they should give a chance to this Opera Australia’s Tosca, set in Mussolini’s 1940s Italy and with modern costumes.

“Opera is not something strange to us Greeks, nor something imported from other countries. The choir and music were implemented in Ancient Greek tragedies. This first mainstage production that John Bell directed for Opera Australia will be an unforgettable experience for both opera lovers and opera novices,” Voulgaridou concludes as she invites the Greek Australian community to come and see the show.

And when it comes to the performance of the Greek soprano, it is enough to quote The Australian’s review, published after Tosca’s premiere last Saturday.
“As Tosca, soprano Alexia Voulgaridou was magnificent. Sustaining a rich timbre and fluid line, she was firm and strong across her range.”

The opera Tosca is on at Joan Sutherland Theatre at Sydney Opera House, till Saturday 31 August. For more information, visit the website, or contact the Opera Australia Box Office on (02) 9318 8200.