Elena Xanthoudakis’ favourite opera is Lucia.
“For me,” Xanthoudakis explains, “there is a lot you can do psychologically with this opera. And I enjoyed putting together her mental instability and the fun of playing that as you are always testing yourself. It was a challenge.”
That pretty much sums up opera singer Xanthoudakis. Always challenging herself in everything she does and always working hard. Xanthoudakis went to a musical primary school and high school, so a career in the arts was always on the cards. But it was opera that was to be her destiny.
“When you start training classically and learn to appreciate what it has to offer and the complexities of what it can be and I really enjoyed it.” With her destiny set, Xanthoudakis studied a Bachelor of Music with Honours and Graduate Diploma of Opera from the VCA and a Master of Music degree from the University of Melbourne. “In the VCA course you had drama, you had dance, you had movement you had all sorts of practical classes and that was all before we got to the opera course. They recognised that the acting part we had to do every week was important.”
Acting plays a big part in an operatic performance. Lovers of this art form don’t go for the music alone, they want the whole performance. The song is a story, the emotion paints the picture and the pure intensity that permeates from each performer is heart wrenching. But her career has now taken her to a new field. Motion pictures. Georges Bizet’s Carmen has been made into a 3D spectacular with Xanthoudakis singing and performing in her first cinematic release. Greek composer Constantinos Carydis was at the helm to oversee an opera transform into a 3D movie.
“It literally was the opera made into 3D,” Xanthoudakis explains. “You had to try and ignore the cameras which was kind of tricky as we had cameras all over the stage but you had to focus on what you were doing.” Not only this, most operas are performed in a different language leaving it up to the opera singer to transcend this barrier.
“I speak basic French, Italian and German and you do learn a lot of words from songs and you always have to translate everything so you know what every word means. But in some cases the language is antiquated and no longer in use. “It takes a lot of preparation,” Xanthoudakis adds. “You need to translate the words by going through word by word, and then you need to start to memorise. You need to do a language course and get coaching in the language as there are so many exceptions and pronunciations and you need to get the intonation and the colour of the vowels. There’s a lot of studying.” Add to that the physical demands of being an opera singer. Looking after your voice, the performance itself and costumes, they alone have to weigh 20 kilograms. “Most people are very careful with what kind of foods they eat and when, particularly late at night if they have a show the next day. No chocolate in the afternoon and late at night. Some people are sensitive to milk and yoghurt, causing phlegm. Some people can’t drink alcohol and you certainly can’t smoke if you want to be in this profession. You need to always keep hydrated, not just with water but in the air as well, you need to keep the humidity up. You also need to be fit as it can be quite strenuous. “There’s being on stage in big heavy costumes. Sometimes you are dancing, sometimes you are on a really difficult set with stairs and you are asked to do some active things like rolling on the floor.”
And then there is the fluid lifestyle of an opera singer with all the travelling demands. When she’s not in Melbourne, Xanthoudakis is based in London and Glasgow. “You travel a lot as an opera singer. I love travelling, I think it’s wonderful to see new places and new people, eating food in different restaurants. But you’re always moving and sometimes you want to stay still for a bit longer but it’s a lifestyle. It’s part and parcel with the career, if you don’t like to travel, don’t become an opera singer.”
Xanthoudakis has performed in Tokyo, Hong Kong, Montreal, and all over Italy, UK and Ireland. She was the 2003 recipient of the Maria Callas International Grand Prix but says winning the International Mozart competition in Salzburg was her career highlight. “There were a lot of Mozart specialists and it was a high standard competition.”
Next year she will sing at Glyndebourne Festival Opera in the UK, the biggest opera festival in the world. The future looks incredibly bright for this young lady who has already, through sheer determination and guts, achieved so much.