Tracing music professor Yiorgos Vassilandonakis’ journey can be dizzying at times. From a rich childhood in Greece to post-graduate experience writing for the Hollywood film scene (he even composed the music for a ride at Universal Studios) to becoming a professor of music composition at the College, he is truly a global citizen. This spring, a homecoming of sorts is in order as the Greek National Opera has commissioned him to write a new mainstage opera in celebration of its 80th anniversary.
Vassilandonakis equates writing his first full-length opera to a visceral experience, which can be overwhelming despite having been through the compositional process in 2008 with his one-act opera, Dance with Me, for the Greek National Opera.
“This is the real thing, and nothing prepares you,” he says. “It’s like running a marathon. I’ve been writing for two years.”
Based on Emmanouel Rhoides’ controversial 1866 novel The Papess Joanne, this interpretation draws a line between Joanne’s rich inner narrative and the diegetic folk music of the setting, as Vassilandonakis has set out to connect the listener to the overt femininity of Joanne while maintaining historical integrity.
“I aim to write at a level that comes through to the audience without sacrificing the complexity and refinement of the story,” he notes. “I want to maintain my own contemporary idiom, yet directly connect it to the dramatic narrative. It has to speak and be functionally clear to people.”
While Vassilandonakis cannot guarantee a fairy-tale ending for the titular character, his homecoming is sure to be a time of great pride for his home country to welcome back one of their own.
Featured image of Yiorgos Vassilandonakis by Mike Ledford