NEW YORK — Lyric tenor Babis Velissarios spoke with The National Herald about his career and his upcoming Carnegie Hall debut on Saturday, September 24 at 8 p.m., during the tribute concert to the late iconic Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis.
TNH: Let’s start at the end. What do you think of your upcoming debut at Carnegie Hall, the legendary stage whose name inspires artists’ admiration given the renowned artists of the past who have graced it?
Babis Velissarios: I am very happy to return to New York for the second time, the first was in November 2011 at the invitation of my uncle Stylianos Manis (Steven Manners). I am honored and impressed to have the opportunity to sing in a grand hall of world renown and glamour, with fellow singers and beloved musicians to honor the Mikis of Greece and the world.
TNH: What is your relationship with Miki Theodorakis?
VB: We met Mikis Theodorakis during the rehearsals that preceded the big concert organized in his honor at the Kallimarmaros stadium in Athens in 2017, under his direction for the last time. I will never forget the look of this great man, as he led he was like a child taking a new toy in his hands, he had great desire and love and through his simplicity he shared with 50,000 people something unique. Looking back, there were times when we spoke on the phone, I treasure the words I heard like the rarest treasure, I thank him and will always honor him, wherever and however it takes. .
TNH: What is your relationship with the music of Mikis Theodorakis? In your opinion, besides honoring the memory of the great Greek composer, what is its significance for us today?
VB: Mikis Theodorakis was and is a global symbol of peace and culture, culture in the deepest sense of the word “culture” which means cultivation. It is of great importance and the reproduction of his work must continue, the verses of the poets that he set to music reach the following generations, we must restore human values.
TNH: Tell us a little about the other performers and the musical selections of the concert.
VB: There are many and I’m afraid to forget someone (!). It’s definitely very nice that I’m singing again next to my childhood hero and now my friend Kostas Makedonas, I can’t wait to sing for the first time with Iro, with Saveria (Margiola), it’s always the same joy as the first time because it is for a very talented person and an excellent colleague at all levels. The musicians of the Orchester Populaire Mikis Theodorakis are all excellent, some of them we know and have worked with for several years. There is, of course, the group of children that I will soon meet who live in America. Finally I left the presenter of the evening, Haris Romas, since we have known each other for a while, he is really as nice as he is a great artist.
TNH: The New York public will therefore have the opportunity to appreciate the work of Mikis Theodorakis on Saturday, September 24 at the famous musical crossroads of 57th Street and 7th Avenue. Let’s move on to your own remarkable and perhaps unusual singing career. How did you discover your musical talent? Where did you take your first steps?
VB: I consider myself very lucky because this job chose me before I chose it. From an early age, I was singing and I had all kinds of artistic preoccupations. From the first steps, I was very close to Thanasis Polykandriotis, Mimis Plessas, but closer than anyone to Vicky Moscholiou, a great singer, an important teacher for me. The deciphering of the lessons I learned during the collaboration continues to this day.
As for the “Tenor” theme, it was born when I was 19 when I was studying theater at the Mary Traga Vogiatzis theater school. After graduating from drama school, they went on to study monody (diploma 2007) and post-graduate studies in Vienna.
In the meantime, my collaboration with the National Opera had already begun, first as a supporting role and then as a chorister. It’s incredibly hard for someone to be a tenor if they don’t understand that they’ve only been given one gift in life…to be a tenor. On the other hand, it’s incredibly easy if he gets it and works hard every day for the rest of his life. It is also my goal to have the health and mind to continue with the same dedication to my study of singing and music.
TNH: It seems that you move comfortably between different genres of music, from opera, as a member of the National Opera for decades, to artistic and popular Greek song.
VB: Music is one thing, that’s what I learned from my teachers and the great collaborators I had over the years. The difference between the aspects of music is how little time we have been given how deep you will “dig” to discover the treasures and knowledge and with the proper technique to be able to pass it on to the world. The singer is the medium between the common composer, lyricist-poet and the era.
TNH: What is your working method? How are you evolving musically? How do you approach a piece that is new to you? How do you approach a piece already known to the public by distinguished singers of the past?
BV: It’s very simple. Even a song that I’ve sung 1000 times, I study it from the beginning, painstakingly searching each interpretation and re-performance for something that escaped me, I always find something new by returning to the starting point of the study.
TNH: On your YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/user/xbelis can we follow all these aspects of your career? What is your relationship with the public and how has it been affected by this ability to be present in every home thanks to the Internet?
VB: My relationship with the public is something that is built from moment to moment through my performances over the 27 years that I have been singing. However, my presence in TV shows played a decisive role, thanks to which I was able to get in touch with people even outside of Greece. I want to say a big public thank you to a good friend and partner who is no longer with us, Vasilis Laskaris, who gave me this platform in a very selfless way.
TNH: You have already spoken about your relationship with Mikis Theodorakis. Other people who have influenced your career?
VB: I could not resist mentioning the composer Dimitris Papadimitriou, who originally entrusted me with the song “Otan ola perasoun” with poems by Manolis Anagnostakis, which was included in the popular and popular series “ Timis logo”. Our collaboration resulted in Moby Dick (the greatest musical production ever made in Greece) a production of Onassis Culture. Dimitris’ gifts to me, a wonderful song and a role (Captain Ahab) have showcased my vocal and performance skills to the max so far.
TNH: What are your upcoming projects ?
VB: From four major concerts, in the Odeon of Herodes Atticus a tribute to Dimitris Papadimitriou, in the ancient theater of Dios with poetry set to music, a tribute to Iakovos Kambanellis that I have long wanted to do, and finally in the ancient fortress of Corfu as a tribute to Mikis Theodorakis with his Symphony Orchestra, I am ready and looking forward to the big moment on September 24 at Carnegie Hall with the Mikis Theodorakis Popular Orchestra and a terrific group of colleagues. I can’t wait, and I hope everyone has a great show.
It should be noted that Stylianos Manis (Steven Manners), a prominent member of the Greek community in New York, was, among other things, for many years in charge of the security of the Greek parade on 5th Avenue. He was one of the first victims of the coronavirus, dying at the age of 76 in March 2020. This interview is dedicated to him and to Eleftherios Velissarios, sadly absent from his son’s debut at Carnegie Hall, and also prematurely lost.