Penelope Serdari and the Rhodes International Festival
When Penelope Serdari, founder and General and Artistic Director of Rhodes International Festival traveled to Rhodes from her native Thessaloniki for a piano competition, she never imagined to be creating a successful summer Festival. Today, Rhodes International Festival, created 14 years ago, is a example of resiliency, hard work and passion for music.
How was the Rhodes International Festival born?
One of my dreams, during my career in the cultural sector, was always to establish a festival. In 2006, some years before I was appointed to the position of the Thessaloniki Opera President, I decided to create a festival in my hometown Thessaloniki, which is the second biggest city after Athens, and is located in Northern Greece. However, an invitation for a piano competition on Rhodes Island, which is located in Southern Greece, was the reason I changed my plans. When I visited the famous Palace of the Grand Master of the Knights, located in the medieval city of Rhodes (which has been classified by UNESCO’s catalogue as a Monument of World Cultural Heritage) my memories from the years I was studying in Italy, as well as the energy of the Palace, were enough to change my plans! At that moment, I decided that the festival should be established there, within the medieval Palace of the Knights of Rhodes.
Penelope, the pandemic forced the world of Opera to change its approach. How do you think 2020 has changed the perspective and the life of musicians?
The cultural sector was the one most affected by Covid-19! People working in the arts and culture as musicians, singers, dancers, actors, organizers, managers etc. as well as cultural organizations were, for a long time, in a big crisis. However, people with inspiration, as well as goals, always find a way to create! The most brilliant example for me is the Artistic and General Director of Teatro Grattacielo (New York) who, during the pandemic, managed by all means to upload online award-winning operas and to create the Camerata Bardi Vocal Academy which trains and promotes young singers from around the world.
How did the idea for the Rhodes International Festival to collaborate with Teatro Grattacielo to present the opera Idomeneo come about?
It is worth mentioning that I met Stefanos in 2012, in New York, when I was there as a cultural management consultant to the Presidency of Cyprus, for the organization of a big concert within the framework of the Cyprus Presidency in the European Union, at the Lincoln Center. Over the next days, I organized auditions for opera singers, and a mutual friend introduced me to his vocal teacher, an opera singer, who was Stefanos! Since then, we have collaborated well together.
This was the main reason that during a period when there was a risk of a lockdown, I chose to officially open the 14th Rhodes International Festival with a co-production with Teatro Grattacielo of the opera Idomeneo by Mozart, alla breve, which was also presented in co-production with the Cultural and Congress Center of Heraklion, Crete during the summer.
I wanted to plan something important with a person I appreciate, and I knew we could achieve the best results even in difficult conditions. And we did it with great success and excellent reviews and articles from the media. Specially designed projections on the imposing walls of the Palace of the Knights and Camerata Bardi Vocal Academy lyric singers from 5 countries impressed the public as well as the opera specialists. We are very happy too because with this wonderful opera, which is inspired by Greek mythology and the history of King Idomeneo of Crete, the festival celebrated the 200th anniversary of the Greek Revolution!
Penelope, what is the daily life of an Artistic and General Director?
My involvement with the cultural sector, classical music and opera, is multifaceted, and apart from my studies in Italy and England, first started at a very young age and from various positions of responsibility in cultural organizations with the Thessaloniki State Orchestra.
The Rhodes International Festival, of which I am Artistic and General Director, has as its main goal classical music and opera, but also presents concerts of film music, musicals, and innovative crossovers and tributes to distinguished Greek and foreign composers. Planning and organizing a festival require a lot of work, a lot of experience, and flexibility especially during the pandemic period. Nevertheless, we managed to do it successfully last year and this year when during the same period many festivals and events throughout Greece were canceled due to Covid-19 restrictions. This happened because in addition to the need for artistic creation, we are faithful to our goals and determined to achieve the best possible results.
Apart from the festival, I personally work as a cultural management consultant with Cultural Organizations, Institutions, Municipalities, Regions and Ministries in Greece and abroad. I also run my two companies that deal with artists and orchestra management and cultural events organization.
What are your future plans and your vision for the Festival in the next 5 to 10 years?
The festival has been recognized as one of the most successful institutions in Greece, every year attracting people from all over Greece and abroad. For the next years, we aim for even bigger productions and international collaborations with the vision of putting the festival on the map of the biggest European festivals in order to attract audiences from all over the world!
The cultural sector is the natural space of creation and expression. I strongly believe that people who are responsible for it must have a vision, work strategically, be specialized, inspired, and passionate.
Nowadays, that the pandemic determines the paths of the peoples, we must use our cultural heritage as a comparative element, with which proper management and promotion can only offer benefits to my country and to the whole world. However, we must not overlook the fact that in any part of the world there is a rich production of culture, there are institutions and infrastructures that support it.
So, we are happy to have the support of the Rhodes Municipality-Cultural & Sports Organization, of the South Aegean Region, as well as the Hellenic Tourism Organization, the General Secretariat of the Aegean, and for this year the HEDNO -Hellenic Electricity Distribution Network Operator.