The play Antigone tells about Thebes, a principal city in the valley of southern Boeotia, between north of the Cithaeron Mountains and southeast of Lake Copaïs (Copais), Central Greece. It was ruled by the tyrant Creon, and was married with Eurydice. They had two sons: Megareus (also called Menoeceus) and Haemon.
Photos: Mikis Theodorakis, Sophocles, Zachos Terzakis, and Antigone with Creon.
Thebes, Oedipus, Creon, Haemon and Antigone
When Oedipus resigned as the King of Thebes, the throne went to both of his sons: Eteocles and Polynices. They agreed to alternate the throne every year. Eteocles did not want to step down after his first year and then the war between them started, and both died in a battle.
Creon gives Eteocles a full and honorable burial, but orders (under penalty of death) that Polynices’ corpse be left to rot on the battlefield as punishment for his treason. This (the state of non-burial) was considered a frightening and terrible prospect in the culture of ancient Greece. Antigone, the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, who is betrothed to Creon’s son, Haemon, defies him by burying her brother, and is condemned to be entombed alive as punishment. Creon finally relents after advice from the chorus leader (Choragos), after Tiresias tells him to bury the body. However, when Creon arrives at the tomb where she was to be interred, Antigone has already hanged herself rather than be buried alive. His son, Haemon, threatens him and tries to kill him but ends up taking his own life. Eurydice, Creon’s wife and Haemon’s mother hangs herself also when she hears the news about her son. In Creon’s old age, a descendant of an earlier king of Thebes named Lycus invades Thebes and, after killing Creon, takes the crown.
The inner conflict of Haemon
Heamon was battling an inner conflict. Haemon is betrothed to Antigone. He must choose between his father (whom he has always followed) and his lover Antigone. He chooses Antigone but cannot separate himself from either because of the strong ties of family, and love. He commits suicide because of his helpless situation, which also leads his mother to commit suicide. These actions cause Creon’s madness at the play’s conclusion.
Sophocles could have created another version, to teach the people that love has the highest value and puts the duty to obey his father on the second place. Sons have to leave their parents and chose for love. If this insight would have been in the mind of Sophocles, he would have added Light in the world of humanity. He added Darkness. Evil.
Haemon, performed by the Greek tenor Zachos Terzakis
In the videos I used for the posts about Antigone, Zachos Terzakis sings the role of Haemon. I found his name a time ago in the opera videos with “Medea” and decided to send him an email, to ask him for a kind of an interview in a post about Antigone. He agreed and sent me the answers. First I will start with some information about Zachos Terzakis.
Who is Zachos Terzakis?
Terzakis was born in Athens on Februar 4, 1950. His roots are connected with a Cretan family, which has already produced many poets and musicians. Of course he started already at a very young age with music. In the University of Athens, he studied geology and completed his studies with a diploma. During the study his talent as an opera singer was unveiled, so in 1969 he received a scholarship for singing the “Apollonion Odeon” in Athens, which he completed in 1976 with the “Prix d’Excellence” and the gold medal. In the same year he won the first prize in the competition for the “Maria Callas Scholarship”. Since 2005 he is the Artistic Director of the Acropolis Athens Conservatory and professor of classical singing and opera. Besides that, he sings in many operas and concerts, composes and is stage director. In the opera Medea he is also the stage-director.
My questions and Zachos Terzakis’s Answers
You performed Haemon. Who is Haemon, what is his part in the complexity of the story?
“Actually Theodorakis´s “Antigone” is an expanded story including
elements from Sophocles “Oedipus at Coloneus”, Aeschylus “Seven
against Thebes” and Sophocles “Antigone” itself. We could say a sort
of “trilogy” very clever compressed in one Opera. From this point of
view the role of Haemon is the one of Antigone´s lover, as Sophocles
presents him in his Tragedy. The highest point of the hole Opera is the
love duet Antigone‐Haemon “Ἔρως ἀνίκατε μάχαν” (=Love,
invincible in battle), with which the Opera ends.”
What is your personal view on Antigone, the story?
Thousands of books have been written on this subject. If I try to add
something I will simply repeat words which already have been
analyzed. However, the goal of an ancient Tragedy is the “Catharsis” of
the audience. Each one of them separately will experience a different
gravity of the characters, according to his/her own spiritual or psychic
need which leads to an identification or a possible impersonation with
a certain character and its passion.
What is your personal view on Antigone, the opera, and its composer Mikis Theodorakis?
As I already mentioned, this is a clever combination of three different
Tragedies in one Opera. I follow Theodoraki´s Operas since 1991 with
“Medea” (as Jason) in Bilbao, Athens and Meiningen (my own German
translation and direction), “Electra” (no tenor part here), “Antigone”
and “Lysistrata”. The evolution is obvious.
In the first version of “Medea”, setting music in every phrase of
Euripides (a work of over 5 hours!) Theodorakis was subsequently
forced to reduce its dimension into 3 and 1/2 hours. Two years later we
performed in Herodion‐Athens another edition, less than 2 hours
(cooperation of Theodorakis, Karitynos and Evangelatos), with positive
critics. However the cuts, according to my opinion, were almost
vicious, leaving out wonderful musical passages and the story was
barely told. In the so‐called “Meiningen‐version” (2 and 1/2 hours) I tried to
keep the story and the music. Having the freedom of the translation I
have dared to make a sort of “transplantation”, moving the interesting
music to the essential actions, keeping the important scenes of the
In “Electra” Evangelato´s libretto has a classic opera structure, with
arias, duets, trios and ensembles. Theodorakis´s music here has a
rather veristic (extreme naturalism in art.. a.j.) style. Definitely a better work.
“Antigone” shows a rapid maturity. The audience gets excited in every
scene and every transition till the exciting end. Certainly this is his
best “opera serial” and very close to the original ancient spirit.
I distinguish the “opera serial” from his amazing “Lysistrata”, the last
of Theodorakis´s Operas, the most ripe and at the same time light and
fresh. I would personally preferred a smaller orchestra or a new
processing with less than 20 instruments for this piece…
How do you prepare a performance like Antigone? It must be a physically
heavy work because it lasts more than two hours.
It wasn´t so difficult, because the role of Haemon is probably less than
a half hour. Also the acting was rather calm. So, I don´t remember
me getting sweated after the finale..!
There are readers of my blog who never listened to any opera, do not have any affinity with this part of Mikis Theodorakis. I am sure!
What would be your message to them, what would you like to share with them to make them listen?
This is a difficult question. People having no contact to Opera initially
should be initiated. One of their questions could be:
“Is Opera alive today? Why should I go there and suffer in a theater for
some hours, without understanding people with huge voices, who
scream and shout as high as they can!?”
The answer is in a Museum example: If I want to admire a wonderful
painting of a great artist, I have to visit a Museum. I may like works of
Rubens or Titian, but I will never buy even one of them for my living
room! So, from one point of view Opera is somehow like a Museum,
but still alive. A sculpture in a Museum speaks for its own. You may
like it, or not. A music piece needs interpreters and performers,
otherwise we can never admire it. In addition we experience a training
through entertainment. From the other hand not any opera is the
same. We can admire and enjoy the music and its taste through the
ages, systems, religions, mentalities and the way of thinking of the
people. Moreover there are excellent, good and bad Operas.
Modern Operas may have huge success or doomed to oblivion, as
always happened in the past.
Where is Theodorakis to be positioned?
He is a modern world famous Greek composer, with musical as well as
political experiences, regardless of specific ideologies. It is interesting
and enhancement to hear and watch the Modern Greek approach of
interpretation for the ancient Greek tragedy. You may like it or not. It
doesn´t really matter. From the other hand Sophocles remains
Is there something you would like to add here, did you miss a question,
something I did not think about and what might be useful in the context of all around Antigone or Mikis Theodorakis, music, opera?
If you understand the German language, have a look in my website.
Under “Staging” or “Regie” of the menu to the left
you can find some interesting information. Especially my essay
“Tränen gelacht” which I have planned to translate into Greek, English, French and Italian……someday…! If you can do it for me I will be thankful…..!
Dear Zachos Terzakis, thank you for the very interesting answers! And… if I would consider myself as an excellent translator I would do it. But, I am not.
Zachos Terzakis, as Jason in the opera Medea (Mikis Theodorakis).
Sources and additional information
- Website: Zachos Terzakis
- OpernFreund: Zachos Terzakis
- szwedart: Zachos Terzakis
- Wiki: Ζάχος Τερζάκης
- Wiki: Zachos Terzakis
- YouTube: Zachos Terzakis channel
- Map: Thebes
- Wiki: Thebes
- TimelessMyths: Thebes
- AncientHistoryEncyclopedia: Thebes
- OpenLibrary: Thebes
- Timeline of World History: Antigone / Sophocles
- Classical Wisdom: Antigone, one woman against the state
- audinosenglishclassics: photos Thebes
- Film: Αντιγόνη (Antigone) (1961)
- Playlist: Antigone