Wednesday, October 3, 2012

ARTISTS CORNER: Soprano Eleni Calenos

Our singers for the fall have arrived and rehearsals for Rigoletto are in full swing.  To help you, the audience member, learn more about the artist you will be seeing on stage this season, we asked each of our principal singers to offer some insight into not only how they prepare for their upcoming performances, but also what life is like for them as a professional singer in general.

We present to you Eleni Calenos, a Greek soprano enjoying an international career.  Ms. Calenos will be singing the role of Gilda, the jester's daughter in this fall's production of Verdi's tragic masterpiece Rigoletto.      

Soprano Eleni Calenos

Q.  Ms. Calenos, What drew you to become a singer?  Was there a specific “Aha!” moment of clarity?

A.  My whole life was filled with music, and not only classical and opera. In fact opera came much later in my life…  My beginning in music, besides listening, was learning to play cello and piano at the age of seven. I also loved to sing in the various choral ensembles of my conservatory.  After, I obtained my diploma in cello performance and performed as a member of my hometown’s Municipal Symphony Orchestra, I took, what I considered at the time, to be a bold turn. I started exploring Greek traditional, ethnic, and even more contemporary/popular music as a singer.  I was successful as a recording session musician and singer, and was performing in different music scenes, often for various Greek TV channels, and already establishing my name.  Little that I knew, I did not expect any radical life changes.  The “Aha”! moment came with my first voice lessons in Athens, Greece. I thought I was just trying to protect my voice by learning healthy vocal technique.  However, this experience “forced” me to explore my full potential, to discover my real natural volume that I had never used before, high notes and extension in general, and finally the use of all my body and soul in an unprecedented way.  The moment I hit my fist high B flat was an epiphany that changed everything, and there was no way back!!

Q.  What are you looking forward to most about performing this particular role?

A.  I am looking forward to the challenges I will meet performing this role.  I’ve had already a taste during my preparation, but performance time and doing it on stage is completely different and teaches you a great deal.  Gilda is a very different role than the ones I have performed up until today.  It is in essence the very first fully staged Verdi opera that I am doing, and in a way among the first in the bel canto style.  Working on it, I had a new and exciting, for me, technical discoveries that I am looking forward to applying as perfectly as I can.  So, I am anticipating discovering new nuances for my character.  I am also looking forward to working and making music and theater on stage with a new conductor, director, orchestra, chorus and of course with great singers!

Q.  Is there something unique about your process for preparing for a role for performance?

A.  I do not know if I could call my preparation unique.  It just includes a lot of work.  First, translating the whole opera and listening to a recording while reading my piano vocal score.  Then, learning my part by repetition, and sometimes rehearsing in front of a mirror repeating the text with different color and intention as an experiment until I have a preferable choice.  After I do my own preparation, I start with coachings, voice lessons, and occasionally one or two theatrical coachings on dramatic interpretation.  I personally consider movement and body posture very important so I try to prepare accordingly with the help of Alexander Technique*.

Q.  What do you want the audience to know about your character?  What do you find most challenging about this role?

A.  I do not want the audience to know anything about my character.  I think everybody’s perception is different and I believe it’s more exciting for them to discover my character along the way without any preconceptions.  They will be able to tell at the end if I, as a singer/actress, have portrayed Gilda well, and if I indeed was being her.  The greatest challenge I find about this role is that Gilda is many women in one. (What woman isn’t?) In the first act, she starts out very innocent and virginal, and we only have a glimpse of what is going to follow. Then she falls in love, she tastes love, and by the last act, she suffers disappointment, betrayal, and pain. She is at times frail and then she is courageous, and has the strength to sacrifice her life in order to save her beloved.  There is a contrast between the act one, act two, and act three Gilda.  Verdi depicts her changes and development throughout the acts very distinctly with his music. 

Ms. Calenos as Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly
Q.  Thus far, what is the most bizarre experience you have had during a rehearsal?  During a performance?

A.  Nothing bizarre besides little jokes during a performance.  However, I remember an experience that I had in Houston during rehearsals.  I was singing my first Cio-Cio San in Madama Butterfly.  After the first couple of musical rehearsals, Hurricane Ike came into town.  The city was almost in a state of emergency, but we kept preparing in the theater even without electricity, even with a flooded basement for a while.  There was no air conditioning in a city infamous for its humidity, and a power generator was used during the dress rehearsals, so that the orchestra musicians could read their parts!  It was all in all a bizarre experience that will stay in my memory.  As if we were a troupe of actors from another era, where art comes first, and we made our sacrifice to save the show!

Q.  Do you have any pre-performance rituals?  Performance superstitions?  Good luck charms?  If yes, why?

A.  My main concern is to trying to keep calm.  Good sleep, not much talking, eating well, no alcohol, yoga practice for stretching of the body and warming it up, listening to recording of my coachings and voice lessons, going over my staging directions are included in my pre-performance routine.  Maybe not so interesting or fun for a non-singer…. But I think singing demands an athletic kind of concentration and treatment, and so my preparation is also a bit athletic.

I have no superstitions or good luck charms.  I just like to be positive, and to feel in an emotionally healthy and loving working environment .  Thus hugging my colleagues and wishing them well beforehand is important.  This profession is not only egotistic.  It’s also very much about team work, and spreading the love before a performance helps!

Q.  How do you relax in between performances?  What hobbies do you enjoy at home and “on the road”?

A.  Many times between performances I need to tone down my rhythms. I seek opportunities to be alone and in complete silence, so I am able to “empty” my head and stay away from annoying and loud sounds. Otherwise, I enjoy small companies of friends and colleagues, soft music, cooking, yoga, reading, swimming if possible, and the best: having a massage session!

Q.  How do you stay connected to family and friends when you are “on the road”?  Do you keep a blog?  Website? Facebook? 

A.  The most practical way to keep connected with my family overseas is Skype.  I also maintain a website ( for people who wish to follow my career, as well as facebook for friends and fans. Don’t forget about e-mails and the old fashioned phone calls!

Q.  Are there towns or cities that you have a strong connection with whether from growing up or attending school?

A.  The city that I have a strong connection with is New York.  It has become my new home and almost replaced my hometown Thessaloniki, Greece.  I have spent eight of my ten US years in New York, since I studied there for my masters and then started my career.  Of course, there are other cities where I’ve developed and established friendships because of traveling for performances.  I feel in many cases, there is a room/bed for me in many cities provided that I wish to visit again.

You can see Ms. Calenos on stage and hear her elegant voice as she performs the role of Gilda, Rigoletto's daughter, in this season's fall production running October 26th through November 12th.  Tickets are available online at or by calling the Sarasota Opera Box Office at (941) 328-1300.

*The Alexander Technique is a study in body movement that aims to teach people how to stand, hold themselves, and move differently in order to eliminate unnecessary tension in their bodies.

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