The rich mezzo-soprano voice of Anita Rachvelishvili rang out on Saturday evening across the ancient ruins at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens. Following long months of coronavirus lockdown that has left music venues, opera houses and concert halls silent across the globe, the Greek National Opera invited the Georgian opera star to perform a recital to a small selected audience at the Roman Agora, a unique archeological site dating back to 19 BC. It was also livestreamed on the opera house's website to music lovers around the world. "After all these months of a pause, it's the first time that I'm singing", said Rachvelishvili, who has performed the title role of Bizet's Carmen in some of the world's leading opera houses, such as La Scala in Milan and the Bastille Opera in Paris. Speaking to AFP before a rehearsal on Friday, the singer said that music and the arts had been vital in helping people around the world cope with being locked indoors for months on end, isolated from friends, family and colleagues. "When the economy goes down because everything stops, we have to remember... that we have art that gives us food for our soul". The recital -- in which Rachvelishvili sang selected arias by Verdi, Cilea, Gounod, Saint-Saens, Cherubini and Meyerbeer accompanied by the Greek National Opera Orchestra -- marks the re-start of cultural events in Greece following the pandemic. Compared with other countries, Greece has escaped relatively unscathed from coronavirus, reporting only 194 deaths so far. - Restarting the entertainment industry - For Greek National Opera's artistic director, Giorgos Koumendakis, it was vital for the entertainment industry that cultural events should be resumed, in the safest possible conditions for audiences and performers alike. Among the 111 scheduled events included in the state-financed "All of Greece, One Culture" festival running until September 15, there would be concerts at ancient sites, such as the fortresses of Zante and Nafplion, the Stadium of Olympia, Delphi, and the ancient theatre of Epidaurus. There would also be a retrospective honouring the 95th birthday of composer Mikis Theodorakis. Artistic production manager Stella Angeletou said the many logistical and technical challenges included the transportation of, for example, a grand piano through the narrow passageways of a castle or carrying heavy lighting and sound equipment on foot under the scorching heat. The implementation of social distancing rules was also a headache, because that "goes against the nature of the spectacle" for audiences and performers alike, said Koumendakis. In the Roman Agora in Athens, the invited audience was made up of health professionals, hospital directors and representatives of the Greek health authorities. Seats were placed one metre (three feet) apart, with face masks to be distributed at the entrance and hand sanitiser dispensers installed throughout the auditorium. In her opening address, Greek Minister of Culture, Lina Mendoni, said that "the supreme value of life is health".
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