09 December 2013 12:58

My plan was to talk about a cultural event that caught my eye as an innovation in terms of classical singing: Established tenor Marios Andreou performing orchestrated cavafy poems, celebrating 150 years from his birth, in a well-organised, multi-sponsored idea.
That angle soon slipped to the back of my mind as I talked to Marios, a 33-year-old who spent six years perfecting his art at the Sofia National Academy of Classical Music and then landed in Cyprus only to discover that doors were jammed shut and attempts to pry them open, required more and more effort.
He is angry and with good reason, as he tells The Cyprus Daily.
He finds himself underrated by the cultural authorities of his own country, who pit "foreign singers, both classical and otherwise, against Cypriots, who are not appreciated and highly underpaid". There's tenor passion in his voice when he says that singers are invited to perform for €2,000 to €3,000 each time, while the maximum he can hope for is €150.
"Just enough and sometimes not even that, to cover my living and petrol costs."
This is because he has to travel all over the country, wherever he finds performing work. It's a seven-days-a week life, with two concerts, musical lyceum classes and other performing work.
"I don't make enough to cover rent," he tells us. It is clear to him that the government does not provide enough incentives for Cypriot artists who want to stay in their country.
He goes as far as to brand it "cultural racism", a rejection of local classical singers which "makes me want to encourage other people to leave".
The financial crisis, he says, has led many to pure exploitation, including government services.
He has not been paid for many  services for at least three months and therefore has to cover this with additional concerts and lessons.
He's been without an off day for the last three months, "at least if I remember well", during which time, he's had to cover his own expenses when performing in other cities than Nicosia or travelling to his musical lyceum classes. "I remember sleeping in my car on many occasions," or being put up by friends.
At 33, he lowers his voice and turns his gaze elsewhere when he tells me that he is forced to accept financial support from parents and friends.
"Shall I tell you something fun?", it's so hard to believe that it does sort of force a nervous laughter.
"I don't have the money to buy glasses, so I bring the lyrics book closer every time; sometimes I sing from memory."
Marios thought of quitting singing altogether last year and working hard on teaching just to make a living. He doesn't want pity and he doesn't ask for favours.
"All I want is an opportunity, like many other Cypriot classical singers."
He tells me that he travels abroad at his own expense just to get an audition somewhere, without guarantee of performing. "Auditions are few and far between in Cyprus and the payment is not worth the effort."  It's on a take it or leave it basis.
Marios is one of those hard workers, just tired of crossing the line second best to a system that "doesn't support or appreciate my work and makes me feel cheap."
He did work as a waiter and at warehouses until he became established as a classical singer, more difficult to achieve than 'mainstream' performers.
"Work is not my fear, but the future is."
In spite of this, Marios is one of the few classical singers still performing regularly in his country and abroad with considerable success mostly at his own cost.
I have to agree that the same goes for many creative and talented people of his generation in all sectors. They end up leaving, not just because of the money, but perhaps mostly due to the fact that those who should encourage and provide incentives have their backs firmly turned.
If a dream, or culture for that matter, is that cheap, then no wonder Cyprus is suffering a brain drain.
 
 


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