In her dressing room at voguish Athens nightclub Hotel Ermou, Anna Vissi is telling us how – sometimes – she has had more fun here than out front with the audience. “I’ve had sex in my dressing room,” she says. “Sometimes before and sometimes after the performance.”
Rock’n’roll cliché aside, for many performers the hours before taking to the stage are fraught with nerves. There are last-minute tweaks to set lists, final decisions to be made regarding hair and make-up and the occasional dispute with the stage manager. But Vissi is never more relaxed than when she is in her dressing room at Hotel Ermou preparing to perform. Sat in a comfortable chair, she has her feet up on the dresser as we enter. “If my dressing room satisfies me aesthetically, my mood and therefore my performance will be better,” she says. “I feel as at home here as I do in my own kitchen.”
That makes sense, given the fact that Vissi has been artist-in-residence at Hotel Ermou since 2015. She plays here two nights a week in performances that cover her 45-year career; depending on the vibe, the set can last for six hours. Understandably, Vissi needs the right environment to prepare. The space in which we’re talking has magenta walls (her favourite colour) and a huge mirror edged with 40 lightbulbs. On the wall is a black-and-white picture of Vissi belting out one of her hits in this very venue.
The usual backstage fable dictates that there must be a rider of booze, expensive delicacies and whimsical demands but for Vissi, simplicity is key. She likes the space to have as little in it as possible so that she can focus on her voice. Before each show she does at least 20 minutes of vocal warm-ups and avoids alcohol: “A drink or two can help you loosen up and relax a little bit,” she says. “But unfortunately it’s bad for the voice.” Later on in the show, though, she isn’t averse to accepting a shot or two to keep the energy up.
It’s partly this discipline that stops her from feeling nervous. “I am confident in myself, so the only things that might make me nervous are vocal problems and the fear that I will not be able to give my audience 100 per cent of myself.”
The longevity of Vissi’s career, beginning in the 1970s, has been in part thanks to Nikos Karvelas, her husband from 1983 to 1992 and still her writing partner. And her next ambition? Growing old gracefully. “As a female artist I never want to succumb to the pressures and have a facelift,” she says. “I want to look like myself on stage. A woman can grow old and look beautiful. Artistic value beats flawless skin. And I want to sing until I’m 90.”
1957 Born in Pyla, Larnaca, in Cyprus
1980 Represents Greece in the 25th Eurovision Song Contest with “Autostop (Hitch-Hike)”
1983 Marries songwriter Nikos Karvelas
1996 Releases triple-platinum album Klima Tropiko
2006 Represents Greece again in the Eurovision Song Contest, performing “Everything”
2019 Releases “Gia Sena (For You)”, written by Karvelas