Georgia Kokkoris is an Opera singer, performing artist and a prime example of someone following their dreams. Born with a natural vocal ability, Georgia visited Greece as a university student and fell in love with the country, the culture and the music, which saw her move to Greece for a year. Living in Athens, next to the open air Ancient theatre Odeon of Herodes was an inspiration for Georgia to actively pursue her career in Opera and her stardom has been on the rise ever since.
What part of Greece are your ancestors from?
My ancestors are from Laconia in the Peloponnese. So I suppose that makes me a Spartan woman!
Have you been to Greece?
Yes, my first visit to Greece was as a university student where I did a language and historical culture exchange course for 8 weeks. I was extremely lucky to visit so many parts of Greece and be immersed in my ancestors’ cultural identity.
That trip was the catalyst for a questing adolescent. It awoke a desire within me to further explore and expand my understanding of my Greek roots so that a few years later I made a decision to move to Greece by myself. I lived and worked in Athens for over a year. My tiny apartment was right next to the Parthenon and Acropolis. I could hear free concerts coming from the open air Ancient theatre Odeon of Herodes (I heard Kiri Te Kanawa singing one night) and I would walk the streets of Plaka daily.
Tell us about your journey with singing? Did you realise at a young age that you had a talent?
My father told me a story recently – that when I was 5 years old he remembered my Kindergarten teacher telling him that while the class was singing ‘Twinkle twinkle, little star’ she noticed that “Georgia has a beautiful singing voice.”
I do remember singing all the time. I was always picked for roles in musicals/operettas through primary school and I sung in a choir. I was probably about 7 years old and I have a tape recorded conversation of my grandmother asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up and I answered her in Greek saying “tragoudistina” she laughs and corrects my grammar saying “tragoudistria”?
I suppose the talent was innate for me and present as a child. The realisation unfolded more from the response of others hearing me sing. It wasn’t something I was consciously aware of. It was simply something that I did and was another channel of expression and communication- for me that was organic.
How did your involvement with opera come about?
My first singing teacher was an Opera singer. I was introduced to the concept of singing in a foreign language (which wasn’t strange for me as I was bilingual and was singing Greek songs around the lounge room as a child.) My first Aria was by Mozart sung in Italian. My singing teacher was a huge fan of the diva Maria Callas who was also of Greek heritage and that made me subconsciously identify more with the art form. After a short hiatus into other studies and travelling, I decided to do more formal vocal studies getting a degree in a Bachelor of Music in Classical Voice.
After its completion, I auditioned to do postgraduate studies in Opera and was accepted into WAAPA and moved from Sydney to Perth. At this time I was singing a lot, and performed in the Australian premier of the ‘Goetz’ Opera, ‘The Taming of the Shrew’ in the role of ‘Katherine’ the Shrew. This role was the catalyst that aligned within me the recognition that a career in Opera was opening before me. On my return to Sydney I was accepted as a Young Artist with Pacific Opera and have been on the performance rollercoaster ride ever since!
What have been some of the highlights of your singing career?
There are many. I always get a bit awestruck when I meet someone famous in the industry and am grateful when I receive support or promotion of my singing in the media.
Two highlights that have really stuck with me so far was my first international singing debut, which I shared with two other singers, a Chinese-Australian Tenor and a British- Australian Soprano. We were invited by famous Armenian Soprano Arax Mansourian to tour Armenia singing Armenian art songs by legendary composer Tigran Mansourian in celebration of his 75th birthday and songs by Komitas in remembrance of the Armenian genocide. It was my first time being broadcast singing on television, being interviewed on the news in Yerevan and performing with an international pianist, conductor and orchestra plus meeting many government officials, which included dining with the President and cultural Ministers in Stepanakert. We were chauffeured around this beautiful country that reminded me of Greece in so many ways. It was an honour to sing in Armenian for the Armenian people and a highlight of my career as it was shared with people I really respect.
My second highlight was receiving a card written and signed from Andrew-Lloyd Webber on opening night for performing the role of Italian diva ‘Carlotta’ in ‘The Phantom of the Opera’, that remains very sentimental.
What are you working on at the moment?
I am currently working with Rockdale Opera Company and we are in rehearsals for the opera ‘The Bartered Bride’ by Czech composer Smetana. I will be singing the role of the protagonist Marenka (the bartered bride). It will be sung in English and performed during the month of November 2016 at Rockdale Town Hall in Sydney.
What inspires you?
In performance my mantra is ‘make good art.’ To do this I tend to observe people a lot. I like to seek out the truth of any situation. Finding the subtext and beyond what a person is actually articulating with words, gestures or music to the real communication is fascinating to me. It can be frightening and vulnerable to be so naked and honest in creating art that when I encounter this with another performer on stage or see it in life, I am inspired.
What is your favourite piece to perform?
I tend to gravitate towards comic or extremely mad and melodramatic characters so if I am singing in a concert, I like to perform songs that can stand alone outside of the context of an entire show. I get a thrill out of performing pieces that have an eccentric character with a lot of vocal acrobatics like “Glitter and be Gay” from ‘Candid’e or Violetta’s aria from the opera ‘La Traviata.’
Who would you love to collaborate with?
It’s a little macabre but the people I would like to collaborate with are deceased composers like Mozart and Verdi! If I had to choose someone contemporary, I’d like to work with opera director David McVicar.
How has your upbringing influenced the work you do today?
Opera is a dramatic work set to music. If you have ever watched a Greek converse you will know that we are a very passionate and expressive race. The body is very engaged. Lots of hand movements, modulating vocal volume, rhythm and inflections, much like an operatic aria. This heightened style of communication is exactly what is needed in a large theatre space. My upbringing has informed my performance style greatly. I often think a big reason I am so comfortable on stage is because I grew up exposed to lots of drama! And I am grateful for it.
What is one piece of ancestral knowledge that you remember to this day?
My grandmother used to say this quote to me in Greek and it has always stuck with me as a valuable lesson on vanity, ageing and being kind to others. “As you are now so once was I; as I am now so you shall be.”
Aside from your family, which Greeks have influenced you?
I am constantly influenced by artistic works, plays, poetry, song lyrics, films and musical compositions that are evolving all the time and Greece has a plethora of these influences from antiquity. In my first discoveries of Opera I would garner that Maria Callas was a big influence. More recently by Greek actress Maria Solomou, she is very dynamic with acute comic timing and interesting to watch.
What is your favourite Greek food?
Spinach Pie! I can’t pass up my mum’s homemade spanakopita.