Epitaph (1958), Dionysos (1985)

Greek National Opera, October 2020

by Mikis Theodorakis

Epitaph and Dionysos are two important political works in religious form by the great Greek composer Mikis Theodorakis the Epitaph (1958) and Dionysos (1985), two political works in religious form which are rarely performed live and are presented by the Alternative Stage of the Greek National Opera on the 21st of October 2020.

Due to the constraining measures for tackling the coronavirus pandemic, the concert will take place without the physical presence of an audience and will be broadcast live on ERT’s Second Program, thus giving the unique opportunity to listeners to enjoy these two great works by Mikis Theodorakis . Radio broadcaster: Kostas Thomaidis, sound engineer Makis Gigas.

Specifically, on Tuesday, October 20, at 19.00, Fotis Apergis will unfold the history of the Epitaph as a work that defined modern Greek songwriting and marked the creative unison of popular tradition to scholarly creations and the mingling of the worlds of the bourgeois and the left-wing intellectuals. Unknown incidents will be narrated, as well as testimonies of the first two historical recordings of the work interpreted by Nana Mouskouri and Grigoris Bithikotsis.

The Second Program will also host the main participants of the concert of the Alternative Stage of the NGO, who will talk about the ambitious project of presenting this contemporary version of the Epitaph and Dionysus. In this radio program excerpts from the rehearsals will be broadcast, thus giving the opportunity to listeners to delve into the creative process, just one day before the presentation of the two works of Mikis Theodorakis.

The Epitaph will be presented in a new orchestration by Giannis Belonis, while the work is performed by Betty Charlaftis, a singer with a long tenure in the composer’s repertoire. Dionysus presented again after decades, is played by Zacharias Karounis, one of the most important performers of the new generation. The eleven-member ensemble is conducted by Lisa Xanthopoulou. The vocal ensemble chórеs (Epitaph) and the ERT Choir (Dionysos) also participate.

Two traumatic moments in Greek history inspired the great Mikis Theodorakis to create an equal number of political works in religious form.

The bloody strike in Thessaloniki in 1936 and the poem of the same title by Giannis Ritsos  were the inspiration for the Epitaph, one of the most important and well-known works of the composer, which constitutes a real political and Greek Stabat mater.

December (1944) was the year for the creation of the lesser known but nonetheless also a masterpiece, Dionysus is a long lament for the sacrifice of teenage boys and girls who fell in the battle of Makrygiannis during the Civil War.

A few words about the projects

Epitaph (1958)

The death of the motorist Tassos Tousis during the strikes of the tobacco workers in Thessaloniki in 1936 and especially the photo of the mother mourning over the lifeless body of her child which was published the following day in the newspaper Rizospastis,, inspired Giannis Ritsos to write a series of poems with the title Epitaph. Theodorakis composed music for eight poems from the collection, in 1958, in Paris. The paradox is that two years later, in 1960, two recordings were made almost simultaneously. One is an orchestration by Manos Hadjidakis with singer Nana Mouskouri and the other is an orchestration by Mikis Theodorakis with singer Grigoris Bithikotsis, who was the one who went down in history and brought a real revolution in Greek song. The composition of Theodorakis, who manages to portray musically every word of Ritsos’s sensational lyrics, the mingling of high poetry with traditional sounds and the bouzouki, but also the moving interpretation of Bithikotsis, characterize this groundbreaking work of Greek discography.

In their current version, the eight songs are played without interruption, forming an unbroken cycle of songs. The lament of the mother (soloist) fuses with the mourning song of the female choir, while the introductory part of the song “May Day” returns as an “obsession” (idée fixe) throughout the work, indicating the procession of the last farewell.