Soula Parassidis: An Influential Cultural Presence

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Born to a Greek father and a Canadian mother, Soula Parassidis has risen as a prominent figure in the realm of classical music, excelling as an operatic soprano, flautist, moderator, and influential cultural presence. Her artistic journey took flight in 2008 alongside the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra, and since then, her singing career has been marked by remarkable achievements. Notable moments encompass captivating performances at distinguished venues like Theater an der Wien, Bordeaux Opera, Taipei Symphony, Festival Aix-en-Provence, Guangzhou Opera, Oper Leipzig, Berlin Philharmonie, Teatro Massimo Palermo, Orchestre National du Capitole Toulouse, RTE Dublin, and numerous others.

Her enchanting performances have reached millions through broadcasts on platforms such as ARTE, RAI, Radio France, and the BBC. Furthermore, Soula's talents extend beyond the stage; she has also assumed the role of a moderator for Medici TV, a preeminent classical music channel. Soula earned a Bachelor of Music from the University of British Columbia in 2005.

Fluent in German, Soula possesses expertise in the operatic works of Richard Strauss and Wagner. In January 2019, she partnered with her husband and fellow tenor, Norman Reinhardt, to establish Living Opera—an online platform that provides aspiring singers with authentic insights into the journey of crafting a successful opera career. Her practical guidance covers a spectrum of aspects, from public performance techniques to preparation strategies and mindset cultivation. These valuable teachings have transcended their impact on artists alone, resonating with professionals and academics alike.

Soula's dedication to transforming the classical music landscape is evident through her initiatives aimed at cultivating creative spaces for project incubation, pioneering inventive funding approaches, and fostering unexpected cross-cultural intersections that harmonize diverse segments of society. At the heart of her mission lies the belief that fostering an empowered entrepreneurial mindset within artists serves as the catalyst for it all. Awards and distinctions, including the 'Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions' Prize and the 'Professional Development Grant Canada Council for the Arts,' further underscore her commitment to artistic excellence and innovation.

Greek City Times spoke with this incredible artist recently to learn more about her life and 'Living Opera', "an intersection of classical music and blockchain technology" - a multidisciplinary platform designed to train artists in strategy and entrepreneurship.

2 Photo credit Studio Kominis

As an accomplished operatic soprano and successful entrepreneur, could you kindly share your journey and how you managed to balance your artistic pursuits with your work at Living Opera?

Most artists and entrepreneurs would admit that their successes came from a combination of hard work, skill, and providential moments where preparation meets opportunity. I’ve never followed the prescribed path or done the things you’re “supposed” to do as a lyric artist. In fact, this is something I’ve bemoaned over the years, until it started to work in my favour, which was only recently. Instead of matriculating from a prestigious young artist program, I moved to Germany to pursue a professional career as soon as possible. Instead of entering major competitions, I was “discovered” in a living room in Berlin after giving a long solo recital. Instead of signing with a major artist agency, my first engagement happened almost accidentally when a rather famous conductor offered to loan me his score for an hour. And I’ve got lots of unusual stories like that. Major hurdles have also punctuated my path, whether it was rebuilding my voice post-cancer at age 23, or launching my first business during the global shutdowns. Through everything, I have mastered one skill that serves me: I always walk with sheer faith that somehow things will work together for my good. That sense of optimism is probably the base requirement for a successful performance career or business. And practically speaking, when it comes to business, I am very good at admitting when I don’t know something and delegating that task to someone more qualified. There’s great freedom in knowing your weaknesses, and surrounding myself with people who are better, faster, or more curious than myself frees up my time to balance everything I am called to do in this part of my life.

Living Opera is positioned at the intersection of classical music and blockchain technology. What inspired you to combine these seemingly unrelated fields, and what impact do you aspire to achieve through this fusion?

The convergence of classical music and blockchain technology at Living Opera was inspired by my dedication to innovation and collaboration. While I acknowledge that we might be a bit ahead of our time, I firmly believe in the potential of blockchain's transparency and decentralisation to reshape artist compensation and audience engagement in the classical music realm.

Combining these seemingly unrelated fields is driven by a vision of a more inclusive and captivating ecosystem. We aim to empower artists, elevate audience experiences, and rejuvenate the appreciation for classical music. While there might be a slight apprehension about the timing, we are steadfast in our commitment to creating a synergy between tradition and innovation that resonates deeply with artists and enthusiasts alike.

Your NFT collection, "Magic Mozart," aims to expand the audience for classical music and fine art. How do you envision blockchain technology playing a role in democratising access to these traditionally exclusive art forms?

Whenever there is a significant technological disruption, it often paves the way for newfound prosperity in the arts sector. This is why I wanted to be an early adopter in the NFT space for classical music. As we continue to develop the Magic Mozart ecosystem, we will serve two primary audiences. First, we will empower performing artists with the knowledge they need to understand whether a full-time performing arts career is right for them and, if so, how to pursue it. Through online learning and assessments, we will equip them with information that is often absent in traditional conservatories or colleges, informed by our experiences as performing artists. We are also developing an app that will enable artists across the board to establish consistency in their practice routines. Second, we produce multimedia content for more general consumer audiences with the goal of inspiring and exciting. For example, one of our upcoming projects involves collaborating with an orchestra in Italy to create a classical/ Christmas crossover album for the holidays. We want to showcase the beauty of classical music and integrate it across other genres.

With your extensive experience as a television moderator and content creator, how do you leverage these skills to promote your work and reach a wider audience for classical music through digital platforms?

Effective communication lies at the core of my approach. I endeavour to create relatable content that strikes a balance between education and entertainment, breaking down classical music's perceived barriers to exclusivity. Strategic collaboration is also pivotal. I leverage my network and affiliations to bring together seemingly disparate voices, creating something new and enjoyable. In the future, I would love to see opera featured alongside a DJ set, or integrated into an R&B song. Why not? This would not only enrich the classical music community with a fresh sound but also expand its reach, resonating with communities that might not have otherwise explored the genre. I'm committed to elevating classical music's presence across every sphere of influence, nurturing a thriving community that has a voice on the world stage.

As someone who serves on the board of an anti-human trafficking organization, The Exodus Road, how do you use your platform and influence to raise awareness about this critical issue and create positive change?

Human trafficking is an insidious crisis spanning nations and communities, and requires a united effort to combat. I employ my platform and influence to shed light on the urgency of this issue, urging individuals and communities to join the fight. Additionally, I collaborate closely with The Exodus Road's team to develop innovative strategies that address the multifaceted challenges posed by human trafficking. By leveraging my artistic connections and network, I strive to foster collaborations, mobilise resources, and generate support for impactful initiatives. This commitment goes beyond fleeting attention; it's about nurturing enduring change where each individual can live free from exploitation.

You have performed as a soloist in renowned cultural institutions in Europe and Asia. How has your exposure to diverse audiences and cultures influenced the content and messaging you create to engage a global audience?

I believe that authenticity is a universal language that transcends borders. Rather than altering my core message, artistic expression, or persona to fit different cultural contexts, I assume that institutions are hiring me for what I uniquely bring to the project. In each instance, I aim to use music to bridge gaps and foster connections between different sectors and communities. This connection often provides me with a fresh perspective, granting me new ways to appreciate the piece I'm working on. For example, I'll never forget my debut in China, where the audience's vibrant energy was palpable. Even though the jokes in Don Giovanni are centuries old, they felt entirely new to that audience, infusing the performance with spontaneity and giving me hope for opera's future.

Living Opera is described as a "multimedia art-technology company." Can you provide more insight into the innovative ways you combine art and technology to create transformative content and experiences for your audience?

Over the past three years, we've been deeply engaged in understanding this space. While we remain excited and optimistic about Web3 technologies, including NFTs, the community unfortunately includes many immature scammers. Numerous NFT collections have launched with unclear value propositions, leaving buyers "rug pulled" — creators walk away with cash, while NFT owners are left with just an image and broken promises. Nevertheless, we believe that NFTs can democratize the arts for two reasons when implemented correctly. First, they enable artists to connect directly with their fans without intermediaries, retaining more revenue with a direct-to-consumer approach. Second, distributed ledger technologies can introduce more shared accountability to the arts sector. Blockchain has the potential to address transparency and accountability issues in nonprofit organisations, where donors lack insight into how their contributions are used and their impact. However, the sector is still evolving, and much work remains to be done. We're excited to continue learning and contributing to the expansion of the classical music sector.

As an educator, how do you envision the future of the next generation of classical music enthusiasts?

I'm inspired by the prospect of nurturing a generation that not only appreciates classical music but also feels a deep connection to its timeless beauty. Technology, as an enabler, will play a vital role in creating interactive experiences that allow for exploration, making classical music accessible at the tap of a finger.

In this future, classical music won't be confined to concert halls; it will be woven into daily life. Whether through streaming, community events, or cross-disciplinary collaborations, I want to help the next generation seamlessly integrate classical music into their diverse interests and experiences. They should be able to interact with artists, experiment with creating their own compositions, and engage in mentorship and collaboration. This environment will encourage exploration, questioning, and a genuine embrace of the richness of classical music.

Collaboration appears to be a central theme in your work. How do you cultivate partnerships with other artists?

Collaboration is key to any successful artistic endeavor. To foster my partnerships, I aim to create an environment where "all things are possible." I love experimenting with ideas and approaching challenges from various angles, encouraging a free exchange of ideas grounded in mutual respect. This approach not only builds a strong foundation but also fosters a sense of trust that's essential for successful partnerships. I also believe in shared experiences. I seek to connect with my team and understand their passions. I prefer relationships that go beyond transactions, even if it means achieving commercial success.

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The classical music industry has often been seen as traditional and exclusive. How do you address the challenges of breaking these stereotypes and making classical music and fine art more accessible to a broader and more diverse audience?

The transformation of classical music and fine art is fascinating, embracing greater accessibility and engagement through technological advancements. Individual artists, especially those with platforms, play a pivotal role in shaping perceptions, with social media being a powerful tool to bridge gaps and open doors to untapped audiences.

Challenging deeply ingrained stereotypes in classical music is a significant undertaking. Countering judgments formed without direct experience is like dismissing a dish without ever tasting it. To tackle this, classical artists and institutions must adopt a multifaceted strategy. Through imaginative programming, interactive experiences, and unparalleled transparency about the realities of producing, performing, and training to become a classical artist, we have the opportunity to break down barriers and democratize access to classical music like never before.

I believe that shedding light on the genuine lives of classical artists could foster a stronger connection to the art form. Often, we've concealed our behind-the-scenes reality behind a polished facade of opulence and perfection. However, many artists struggle financially, and some might earn more working in other industries. To thrive, we must reveal these truths and dismantle long-standing stereotypes. This journey towards growth begins with transparency and dispelling misconceptions that have accumulated over time.

Have your Greek roots influenced your decision-making and actions? How do you perceive Greece?

Human beings are hardwired for self-expression and a sense of belonging, which provides solace to our souls. Growing up in Canada with a Greek father and Canadian mother (whose family emigrated from Ireland after WWII), I've navigated a dual identity that left me questioning my purpose. When I visited Greece as an adult, it was transformative—like discovering a missing piece of myself. This experience led me to become a Greek citizen in 2018. Greece, to me, is a call to action, compelling me to advocate for progress both locally and globally. In embracing this role, I find another facet of myself along the way.

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