Poet sings of Greece’s hard times

“I supplied the weapon that took Ritsos’s poetry to every home,» composer Mikis Theodorakis told a news conference in Athens this week, referring to his musical interpretations of poet Yiannis Ritsos’s work. Three of these projects, «Epitaphios,» «Romiosyni» and «Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland» will be performed this coming Wednesday at the Herod Atticus Theater before being taken to various cities around the country. The ideological bond between these two prominent artists was strengthened when the poetry of one met the music of the other. «Ritsos taught us that the great poets are on the side of the common man. But in recent years, his poetry has – deliberately, I believe – been pushed to the sidelines because, of course, it annoys,» Theodorakis said. «During times such as the Nazi occupation, the civil war or the military dictatorship, people of the arts had a role. Now they sit on the periphery, either because they are forced to or because they censor themselves. Ritsos returns to the forefront with this concert and can play a role during these difficult times,» he added. The three works to be presented are associated with important chapters in modern Greek history. «Epitaphios,» released in 1963, advocated working-class struggles; «Romiosyni,» three years later, dealt with the country’s resistance during World War II, while the «Eighteen Short Songs of the Bitter Motherland» project in 1973 protested against the 1967-1974 military dictatorship. «Ritsos possessed the courage and power to address these issues. During the 1960s, when «Epitaphios» was released, conditions in Greece were difficult. The album was banned soon after its release. Numerous other works of mine were also banned then,» Theodorakis recalled. «Police officers would even take records out of juke boxes.» All three works to be performed at the concert have been interpreted on numerous occasions by various musicians, including the late composer Manos Hadjidakis and Nana Mouschouri, as well as the legendary singer Grigoris Bithikotsis and bouzouki virtuoso Manolis Hiotis. New visual and theatrical elements, however, will be introduced into this latest presentation. Song performances will be coordinated with images projected onto a simply adorned stage, directed by Yiannis Lapatas. Painter Alekos Fasianos undertook the production’s artistic design, and Dora Lelouda its stage and costume design. The theatrical elements were added to convey more clearly the motives behind the three works, which audience members may not be aware of. Raising the public’s awareness of the historical events behind the works is the primary objective of this latest performance. All three cycles will be performed by the Mikis Theodorakis Popular Orchestra, fronted by the singers Eleni Tsaligopoulou, Dimitris Bassis and Yiannis Bezos, with contributions from Yiannis Fertis, Kakia Igerinou, and Thodoris Antoniadis. Following next Wednesday’s performance, the landmark works, which bonded the working relationship between Theodorakis and Ritsos, will be performed in Patras, Sparta, Corinth, Samos, Lemnos, Lesvos, Leros, Icaria, Aghios Efstratios, and Thessaloniki.

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