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23.07.04: Zorba composer launches Greece the musical

ATHENS (Reuters) - The man who brought Greek music to the world four decades ago with the soundtrack of "Zorba the Greek" is set to serenade the Athens Olympics next month.

The music of the outspoken Mikis Theodorakis has already been heard across the Greek capital in a series of events building up to the August 13-29 Games.

The Berlin Philharmonic (?) have played his film music at the Herod Atticus theatre and pop star Antonis Remos has revived his songs.

For a crescendo, Theodorakis has turned the country itself into a musical.

Theodorakis's keenly awaited "Life Full of Greece" offers a happy ending to a less than harmonious pre-Olympic period for the politically-engaged, 78-year-old composer.

His musical dramatises the turbulent quarter of a century after 1950 that saw Greece stagger from civil war to dictatorship and finally return to democracy.

This was the period which shaped the inspirational musician's left-wing views and saw him become a symbol of resistance to the 1967-74 military junta.

The musical signals a truce in the composer's relations with Olympic organisers after a period in which his political views have often drowned out his immense musical contribution.

Theodorakis insists that his ode to Greece is not personal. "This is not my story, it's the story of Greece," he told reporters.

The composer retains his popular touch and postponed the original premiere of the musical when it was overshadowed by the success of the national soccer team at Euro 2004.

Instead of conducting his new show he paid tribute to the new European champions after their victory in the final over Portugal on July 4.

"The national team has lit up the face of Greeks," Theodorakis told Greek daily Ta Nea.


To an international audience, Theodorakis is the composer of the memorable score to the 1964 film version of "Zorba the Greek".

At home, he is acclaimed as a hero of the Greek left whose campaigning for social and political justice has seen him imprisoned and his music banned by successive right-wing regimes.

He famously responded with the pronouncement that "my songs are stronger than tanks".

Despite this turbulent career, Theodorakis has composed a catalogue of operas, symphonies, oratorios and film scores, as well as thousands of songs, that make up a large part of Greece's modern musical identity.

But the veteran political activist, nominated recently for the Nobel peace prize, has become well known for orchestrating controversy as much as soundtracks.

The first of a series of Olympian rows broke out in 2002 after broadcasters at the Salt Lake City Winter Games forgot to credit his Canto Olympico when it was played at the opening ceremony.

A furious Theodorakis responded by accusing Salt Lake officials of a deliberate omission based on his links to the Greek left, a claim they strongly denied.

"By no means did anyone ever think for a second to slight the work of a composer who promotes Greece internationally," Greek government spokesman Christos Protopappas said at the time.


After a lull in which Theodorakis's comic opera "Lysistrata" headlined the opening of a Greek-organised Cultural Olympiad in the build-up to the sporting festival, normal service resumed.

Criticism in the Greek press of the seven-million-euro bill for staging the opera based on Aristophanes's anti-war satire received a typically shrill response.

"I intend to forbid the use of my work, here and now from Olympic events, both cultural and otherwise", Theodorakis said in an open letter to Greek daily Eleftherotypia in January 2003.

"This way they (the critics) will be satisfied and I can be left in peace," he said.

His critics were sharp enough to point out that Theodorakis's comments came after the publication of the Cultural Olympiad's final programme, which excluded his works anyway.

The year ended with him once again at the centre of a controversy, this time over off-the-record comments comparing Greeks and Jews.

"We are two nations without brothers in the world, we and the Jews. But they have fanaticism and manage to get their way," he reportedly said. "Today we may say that this small nation is at the root of evil and not of good."

A storm of international criticism followed, with Theodorakis labelled an anti-semite by Israeli cabinet ministers, and criticised by U.S. ambassador to Greece, Thomas Miller.

The composer responded by saying that his comments were specific to the policies of the Ariel Sharon government and not addressed to Jews in general.

Theodorakis has led campaigns against the wars in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq and addressed a mass rally in Athens in support of the Palestinians while wearing a traditional Arab scarf.

As the global spotlight shines on Athens next month, Greece's greatest modern composer will not be standing quietly in the wings.

By Daniel Howden

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