Stephen Taylor / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
Dimitra Theodossiou in Ikebukuro, Tokyo, in October 2007
Dimitra Theodossiou has just said, "How do you say that in English? 'Love at first sight.' Oh yes, OK," and I'm wondering how many other people in Japan can say they've taught a world-famous opera singer a new English idiom.
But when the Greek diva wanted to describe her passion for opera, that was the perfect expression.
Theodossiou was talking to The Daily Yomiuri at a Tokyo hotel the day after her performance in the role of Violetta in Guiseppe Verdi's La Traviata for the Prague State Opera at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan last week.
So was the soprano happy with the production?
"I enjoyed it very much. It was a new interpretation for me, much more intense," she said.
With tenor Daniil Shtoda in the role of Alfredo and under the baton of conductor Enrico Dovico, it is a powerful production of the classic tragedy of how Violetta, a Parisian courtesan, falls in love with Alfredo, a wealthy member of the aristocracy.
Though the production uses traditional visuals, with a focus on light and shade in the costumes, the set is very minimal, with a large white panel supplemented by a couple of chaise longues serving as the backdrop to the drama.
"Sets like yesterday make for more of a performance because you must use your personality, and you can show your personality with a minimal set," Theodossiou said.
It wasn't only the sets on the production that were minimal, as Theodossiou explained.
"Preparation was very short because I just had one day for rehearsal. It was not very long, but if the producer says what he wants then it's much easier to pick it up," she said.
Not that the audience cared how long she had prepared for the role, judging by the emphatic ovation she received. Theodossiou has been to Japan several times and says she always enjoys her visits.
"I think Japanese audiences are the best in the whole world...I love Japan and I love to return to Japan," she said.
"The people are very polite here and the hospitality is very important. I come from Greece and in Greece hospitality is No. 1 for Greek people," she added.
But it's not only the Japanese people that have enchanted Theodossiou.
"I often go to kabuki theater. I like it because kabuki is very different and very interesting. For example, the roles are only played by men and it's totally different from the theater I know, but it's very interesting, and each time I come to Japan I visit the kabuki theater," she says.
And when she performs, the combination of acting and singing in opera is crucial for Theodossiou.
"It's very, very important. Only singing is a little bit boring because after you master the technical side of singing--then you can go much more on the interpretation. If you're acting you can do much more with the role...I want to make the audience cry or be happy," she explained.
Theodossiou was a relatively late starter as a singer, only attending music school after graduating from university in economics, but her first exposure to opera came at a very early age.
"When I was 6 years old, I went to the opera for the first time with my father to see [Verdi's] Il Trovatore. After the performance I came out and said to my father, 'When I grow up, I want to be Leonora.' That was my first encounter with opera," she said.
Though her family were not musicians, their love of music had an impact on the young Theodossiou. That first trip to the theater in Athens would not be the last.
"I went with my father three times a week, because he was a lover of the opera, a freak...he had a friend in the theater so we got in without paying," she revealed.
Four years after making her debut in La Traviata in Greece in 1995, Theodossiou made her international debut in Verdi's Attila at the Teatro Communale in Bologna and has since gone on to interpret some of the most famous bel canto roles. Though she loves all of them, she admits to some favorites.
"There are some roles that suit me, such as [Violetta] in La Traviata, [and the title roles of] Norma [by Vincenzo Bellini], [Gaetano Donizetti's] Anna Bolena and Roberto Devereux [also by Donizetti]. Those roles are special but I like all of the roles I play," she said.
And though Theodossiou is a lover of opera, her home life ensures that she keeps in touch with modern musical trends.
"I have a 14-year-old son, so you can imagine what kind of music is [played] at our home, rap and R&B, I like it," she says.
When asked about how she juggles motherhood and a career as an international opera singer Theodossiou had a candid response.
"It's a big problem because I have very little time at home. We try to communicate as much as possible, by telephone or e-mail or Skype when I can. But now, my son is a little bit bigger and he understands the situation and nowadays it's not as big a problem as it was before.
"When he has a vacation he always comes to the opera. Japan is an exception as he had 10 days of vacation but the flight was too long for him to fly alone. In Europe it's not a big problem because his father takes him to the airport and I pick him up at the other end. In Europe he always comes to my concerts, time permitting," she said.
And when asked about the thought of her son going on the stage, Theodossiou didn't hide her feelings.
"If he wants to that would be great. I'd like to see him as an opera singer, but everyone has to follow his or her favorite career path. I was lucky to be able to pursue a career in something I loved from when I was a 6-year-old girl. If my son wants to be in IT, it's quite OK for me, but if he chooses music it would be the best thing for me because music is always the best thing."
Dimitra Theodossiou will sing the role of Violetta in the Prague State Opera production of "La Traviata" on Nov. 4 at 2:30 p.m. at Festival Hall in Osaka, (06) 6231-2221, and Nov. 7 at 6:30 p.m. at Tokyo Bunka Kaikan in Ueno, Tokyo, (03) 3538-8188.
(Nov. 2, 2007)