Russian operatic superstar Anna Netrebko makes a rare appearance in Athens on Saturday in an all-star concert that will mark the reopening of live performances at the Greek National Opera even as authorities sound the alarm over a resurgence in coronavirus infections.
Netrebko will headline the All Star Verdi Gala at Athen's historic Panathenaic stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic games, in an evening of arias and duets from some of Verdi's best-loved operas, such as "Aida", Il Trovatore", "The Force of Destiny", "Otello" and "Rigoletto".
She will star alongside her husband, Azerbaijan tenor Yusif Eyvazov, Greek baritone Dimitry Platanias and Georgian mezzo Anita Rachvelishvili, accompanied by the orchestra of the Greek National Opera under the baton of French conductor Philippe Auguin.
"We are very excited, especially to perform in this amazing historical place with such a wonderful atmosphere", Netrebko said before a rehearsal on Thursday.
Tenor Eyvazov said it was special to be performing in front of audiences once again, after concert halls and opera houses across the world have been closed because of coronavirus restrictions, offering only streamed performances instead.
"We cannot perform without audience. These online concerts they are really nothing. We need the audience's feedback," the tenor said.
Greek baritone Platanias said that performing in a sports stadium posed very special challenges for opera singers.
"There are many difficulties, like the wind in the microphones, but I hope these will overcome these challenges", he said.
While concert venues, opera houses and summer music festivals across Europe are cautiously reopening after a more than a year of closures, the Greek National Opera said it chose "the biggest and safest open-air space in Athens" to reassure audiences fearful about infection.
"From my point of view, this is the most important: to evade the fear of this horrible disease. Art is a kind of medicine", said the company's artistic director, George Koumendakis.
Covid-19 cases are on the rise again in Greece, mostly due to the highly contagious Delta variant, causing the government to reconsider the easing of the measures that had been announced for the summer.
Authorities this week issued a strong recommendation to people returning from trips to the islands and the mainland to perform self-tests, and to wear masks in all indoor and busy open spaces.
Health authorities on Friday announced 1,997 new cases of Covid-19 with the average number of daily cases in the last seven days rising to 1,081 compared to 442 last week.