Countertenor Nikos Spanatis is Pope Leo IV

In the opera "THE PAPESS JOANNE" presented at Greek National Opera



Countertenor Nikos Spanatis is interviewed by ATHENS VOICE about his life and role in the opera "THE PAPESS JOANNE" at Greek National Opera
Interview: Maria Alexiou
 2018 - 10 - 13 Brussels Thessaloniki 2
Nikos Spanatis ©  Yannis Gutmann
A new opera, “The Papess Joanne”, ordered by Greek National Opera to composer Yorgos Vassilantonakis for the 80th anniversary of the organization, occurs 154 years after the release of Emmanuel Rhoides’ "anti-christian and malevolent" novel. The libretto, which has the signature of the author Vaggelis Hadjigiannidis, is based on the homonymous novel by Rhoides, which is about a woman who managed to take the Pope Throne by hiding her femininity. The new ambitious production will be presented for three unique performances, March 8, 15 and 22, 2020, at the Stavros Niarchos Hall of Greek National Opera at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center, under the baton of Stathis Soulis and the direction of Dimitrios Karantzas.

Photo c Στέφανος Παπαδόπουλος llocq
Nikos Spanatis © Stefanos Papadopoulos llocq

We met countertenor Nikos Spanatis who holds the role of Pope Leo IV, a role that shows a highly unconventional character, without any seriousness, causing the public to strongly disrupt the prestige of the Papal Throne.
A crystal countertenor voice, plenty of rave reviews, with many appearances such as at The Odeon of Herodes Atticus, Onassis Stegi, Athens and Epidaurus Festival, Megaron Athens Concert Hall, Parnassos Literary Society, the artist unfolds his truth.

Talk to us about your childhood and how your relationship with music started.

I was born in Frankfurt and when I was very young, we moved with my family to Athens. I intensely remember my childhood full of endless games in the neighborhood with my friends and classmates. I have loved music since the last grades of primary school and, when I came back from school to home, I would enjoy listening to my favorite vinyl record “The Water Music” by Handel.
Later on, being encouraged by my father, I became an active member of a Philharmonic Orchestra for many years, where I took music and trumpet lessons. I studied piano, music theory and singing later at the Conservatory and I graduated from the Department of Music Studies of the Ionian University, where I am currently a PhD candidate.

Tell us about the countertenor’s voice and the contemporary repertoire you have performed.

Countertenor’s voice is carrying the audience away in a magical way, especially to the Renaissance and Baroque eras. It is a specific voice, exceptionally peculiar for many people and unexpectedly dynamic sometimes, with virtuosity and ability, a voice that must coexist in an equal level with other operatic voices. I have been very frequently invited to sing contemporary operatic repertoire composed by Benjamin Britten, Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Sullivan, Philip Glass, as well as songs of a different repertoire by composers such as Kurt Weill, Ariel Ramirez, Jacques Brel, Michael Nyman, the Epirus dirge “Mariola”, the song “Anoikse giati den anteho” by Greek popular composer Yannis Papaioannou, the excerpt from the amazing “Murderess” by Yorgos Koumendakis, etc.

How old were you when you first heard about the novel “THE PAPESS JOANNE” by Emmanuel Rhoides?

I heard about “The Papess Joanne” while at the University, among other novels and writers of the previous century.

How would you describe your collaboration with director Dimitrios Karatzas, an artist of your generation?

I am very happy to collaborate with director Dimitrios Karantzas, who marks a great career in the theater industry. He is truly devoted to the direction of the opera and he often intervenes vigorously with just a single word. He gives the singers the freedom to think and perform every movement and he is always conciliatory, smiling and inspirational.

Tell us about your role.

In the opera “The Papess Joanne” by great composer Yorgos Vassilantonakis, I play the role of Pope Leo IV, a role that shows a highly unconventional character, without any seriousness, causing the public to strongly disrupt the prestige of the Papal Throne.
The "anti-Christian and blasphemous" novel by Rhoides is massively formed by librettist Vangelis Hadjigiannidis and comes alive with the mystical music of Yorgos Vassilantonakis, creating intense reflection on religion and authority issues.

What are your forthcoming artistic plans?

In the summer, I will perform in London, at the Concert Series of the historic St. Martin in the Fields church, as well as at the Church of St Laurence at Upminster with acclaimed organist Heleni Keventsidou.
Furthermore, during Fall, initially in London and then in Athens, I will present my first personal album under the English record label “Ravensbury”, a collaboration with Heleni Keventsidou, containing works by Dietrich Buxtehude, Arvo Pärt, Yorgos Koumendakis, etc.

Nikos LIVE


Tell us about contemporary artists in Greece.


Contemporary artists are given the ability to stand out and claim a place in the artistic landscape of Greece. The competition is hard, but there are many opportunities. Now, artists are able to promote their work independently, through the internet, something that did not happen in the past, they can be supported by public and private organisations, and the reward, in Athens and the periphery, is the pleasure, recognition and warm applause by the audience.


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