Yannopoulos, Konstantinos (“Dino”)

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Yannopoulos, Konstantinos (“Dino”)

(b. 15 December 1919 in Athens, Greece; d. 6 April 2003 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania), stage director and drama teacher with a long career at the Metropolitan Opera.

Yannopoulos was the son of Sotirios Yannopoulos, a Greek admiral, and Elsa (Thiele) Yannopoulos, an American from Columbus, Ohio. His father later became an attaché at the Austrian Legation in Vienna, Austria. As a student Yannopoulos attended the University of Vienna, graduating from the institution in 1937. He then earned a PhD in economic history from the University of Leipzig in Germany in 1940. The next year Yannopoulos became the first director of the Athens National Theater, debuting the soprano Maria Callas in her first major opera appearance—the title role in Tosca by Giacomo Puccini. But World War II closed in, and Yannopoulos served as first lieutenant in the Office of Strategic Services in the European Theater of Operations. After the war he studied in Vienna with Herbert Graf, one of the leading opera directors in Europe and a proponent of realistic staging. When the Metropolitan Opera in New York City became stuck for a director, Graf recommended his young student, and Yannopoulos officially joined the Met roster in January 1946 as the youngest stage director in the history of the company. Yannopoulos found himself at the famous but aging house on Thirty-ninth Street that lacked up-to-date technical equipment.

One of his first projects was Tristan und Isolde by Richard Wagner, featuring Helen Traubel, which critics complained “lacked purpose.” He directed a memorable 1952 production of Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg by Wagner with Jussi Bjoerling, a Swede with a tremendously exciting voice. Tristan is a long opera with relatively little stage action. Yannopoulos was still challenged by such staging problems in 1953, when he directed Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns, an opera that is more an oratorio. Critics again complained that “there was no logic to his movements.”

Meanwhile his activities outside the Metropolitan had been growing. In 1950 he had done a production of a Restoration stage play and in 1954 had been asked to stage operas in his native Athens, eventually staging Orfeo by Claudio Monteverdi, Idomeneo by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Oedipus Rex by Igor Stravinsky.

In October 1954 Yannopoulos directed the televised opening night of the Metropolitan as Zinka Milanov and Mario del Monaco starred in act 1 of Aida by Giuseppe Verdi—a spectacular act including ballet and a large chorus. The next month found him staging Manon Lescaut by Puccini with Rosalind Elias, a soprano with a long Metropolitan career. In 1955 Max Rudolph conducted Don Giovanni by Mozart in a new production directed by Yannopoulos. The production would become so sturdy that it would survive the 1966 move of the Metropolitan to Lincoln Center. It was a unit set in which the basic stage framework did not change over the scene changes in the 150-minute opera.

During the 1955–1956 season Yannopoulos directed Callas’s rival, Renata Tebaldi, in Verdi’s setting of Otello. That same season Yannopoulos finally rated critical acclaim as “masterly” in a 1955 Andrea Chénier work and “skillful” in Die Meistersinger (1956), conducted by the Wagnerian specialist Rudolph Kempf. It was a traditional production of this work; thereafter the Metropolitan would usually stage Wagner’s work in a traditional fashion even as European opera houses would try to find avant-garde insights.

In 1956 Yannopoulos was entrusted with a new production of Ernani by Verdi (it included a twelve-minute ballet scene), and this he time received accolades for Samson and Delilah, in which he “imaginatively” mingled the singers and the dancers. By the 1950s Yannopoulos was achieving an international reputation. He joined with sixty-eight other artists in petitioning U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower to provide greater artistic presence at the World’s Fair in Brussels, Belgium. Critics complained his Otello that year had busy crowd scenes that distracted from the baritone Leonard Warren’s notable effort.

In 1959 Yannopoulos started working with other American companies. He staged productions in San Francisco and became artistic director of the Cincinnati Summer Opera, the oldest opera company in America. He rose to principal stage director in San Francisco. He did work in Vienna in 1960. In 1961 he became director of the Vancouver Theatre Festival, a legitimate theater, producing a play starring Mike Nichols and directing The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. On 14 July 1965 he married his second wife, Marguerite Willauer, a soprano with the New York City Opera. They had two children. Willauer had sung in Miss Julie by the American Ned Rorem. Yannopoulos celebrated by producing Turandot by Puccini for City Opera. He also began working at the Curtis Institute, a music conservatory in Philadelphia, where Graf had briefly taught. His work there included a production of Intermezzo by Richard Strauss. The connection with Curtis would continue until the opera department encountered financial difficulties in 1977.

In 1976 New Jersey launched its own opera company under the leadership of the well-known conductor Henry Lewis. Yannopoulos contributed a production of Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito, including the celebrated Metropolitan bass Jerome Hines in the title role. In 1977 he ended his term as principal director with the Metropolitan.

In 1980 Yannopoulos became director of the Academy of Vocal Arts in Philadelphia, producing a rarely staged opera by the Viennese composer Franz Schubert. A personal friend of Prime Minister George Rallis of Greece, he led an artistic festival on the island of Corfu. Yannopoulos left the Academy of Vocal Arts in 1989. Upon his death in 2003, Yannopoulos’s body was cremated and his ashes given to his family.

The stage director in opera tells the singers where to stand, when to come in, and how to move. As one of Strauss’s characters claims, “The stage director gives an opera meaning.” In an era before videotapes, opera stage directors left few artifacts for future historians. Audiences did not have hours and hours of daily television dramas to judge performances, and many singers were content to plant themselves on stage and sing with only the merest suggestion of movement. Yannopoulos succeeded in this environment. Further, he claimed to have no particular dramatic theory other than to follow the “inspiration of the composer or author.” He had a long career in a number of venues and with operas penned by many composers over the entire range of opera history. His work cemented the Metropolitan’s reputation for elaborate but realistic productions with few attempts to alter the settings envisioned in the libretto of the particular opera. It is significant that Yannopoulos also had the versatility to direct nonmusical dramatic productions. The director himself claimed that directing the young Callas, a mercurial and temperamental artist, was one of his finest achievements.

Yannopoulos is highlighted in Opera News (21 Jan. 1946 and 30 Dec. 1967). Sir Rudolph Bing, 5000 Nights at the Opera (1972), and Schyler Chapin, Musical Chairs: A Life in the Arts (1977), describe events at the Metropolitan during Yannopoulos’s tenure, but both writers seem to go out of their way to avoid mentioning him. Obituaries are in Andante (11 Apr. 2003) and the New York Times (14 Apr. 2003).

John David Healy