Aussie Opera Diva Does Oriental Act In Lebanon

Published July 2nd, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

On Aug. 10, that’s all set to change when Pavlakis and the Oriental Roots Orchestra kick off the Byblos International Festival, a three-week event that promises to turn the world’s oldest city into a musical melting-pot courtesy of promoter-producer Michel Elefteriades, according to The Daily Star, Lebanon.  

Pavlakis is the principal artist at Opera Australia, where she has been the reigning Prima Donna for the last seven years. In the 17 years since she first started to sing, Pavlakis has worked with some of the greatest singers and conductors in Opera, ranging from Dame Joan Sutherland and Leona Mitchell to Tibor Rudis and Richard Bonning.  

Pavlakis, an Australian of Greek extraction, finds herself referred to as the new Maria Callas. Flattered by the comparison, even admitting there are similarities in the timbre of their voices, she is not setting out to emulate the Opera legend, stressing that her own affinity is for Romantic rather than Dramatic Opera.  

And while Pavlakis looks forward to the day when, like Callas, she can make Turandot her own, unlike Callas, she is determined not to sacrifice her four-octave voice for the opera she refers to as “the killer.”  

When asked on just how did the Diva got caught up in a fusion project she said “we’d heard about the festivals here and my agent made contact with Michel who got me involved.” 

“I still sing operatically and I envisage the music as classical orchestration with oriental influences, something great and grandiose,” added the Diva. 

A recurring theme of the conversation was whether Lebanese audiences would accept the unusual mélange of three distinct, if not opposing traditions. Elefteriades said he believes that Lebanese audiences are flexible.  

“I was accused of vandalism at the time and I was told no one would accept it but actually it was a great success,” he added.  

Pavlakis, who will be touring with the Oriental Roots Orchestra after the festival ends, seemed similarly assured, although she is still not certain where this series of concerts will turn out to be a brief holiday from the classical world, or if the experience will influence her future work.  

“I may go back to classical or become a female Andrea Boccelli,” she explained. 

“I hope the Lebanese cherish it but they’re not our sole target audience, although if it’s accepted here, it will be like our international release.”  

Whether the festival is a commercial success or not remains to be seen, but if last year’s Arabo-Andalousian collaboration and the sample CD Elefteriades has produced for his three acts is anything to go by, Byblos is going to cause quite a splash at home and potentially abroad as well.  

“There’s been interest recently in Spanish and Indian music, our research suggests Oriental is the next wave,” Pavlakis said. “I’m adventurous and I take risks but always calculated risks.”  

Elefteriades too has his sights set on the bigger picture. “Byblos is about creativity,” he said. 

“Festivals shouldn’t just be about importing stars, Lebanon should be exporting some of our own.”  

Penny Pavlakis and the Oriental Roots Orchestra open the Byblos International Festival on Aug. 10—  


© 2000 Al Bawaba (

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