Power Marketplace’s public service journalism 💙 Give Now
Greek Debt Crisis

Greeks channel financial woes through song

Stephen Beard Feb 17, 2012

Kai Ryssdal: All right, so look at this. We made it down to the bottom of the show before we mentioned Greece. How ’bout that?

It’s going to be a tough weekend in Athens. Another tough weekend, more properly. Their latest deadline — after missing dozens — is Monday. That’s when other eurozone countries are scheduled to decide whether Greece has done enough to qualify for a second bailout package.

Whichever way it goes, good times are probably still a ways away. There may be more street protests. But Greeks of a less-violent disposition have been expressing their fury and frustration in more artistic ways. From Athens, Marketplace’s Stephen Beard reports.

Stephen Beard: Laden with debt, plunging into poverty, humiliated by the rest of Europe, the Greeks have co-produced an opera about the debt crisis.

It’s a comedy.

Music from “Aida”

The “triumphal march” from “Aida” — not with trumpets, but with kazoos. Like Verdi’s original, this modern adaptation is about conquerors and slaves. But here the conqueror is not an Egyptian pharoah. He’s the German head of the European Central Bank, and he comes to Athens to sort out the debt problem.

Kharalampos Goyos is with the production.

Kharalampos Goyos: There’s been a lot of talk about a new kind of German occupation of Greece. It reflects a truth that Greek people really feel that they’re not masters of their destiny and of their life.

The comic opera is a joint production between German and Greek opera companies. So far it’s played only in Germany to packed, enthusiastic houses.

Goyos: The German people were not only launghing but also cheering and applauding and banging their feet. And everybody after the show was coming to us and trying to speak in Greek. I think it changed something.

The opera comes to Greece next month. We’ll see then whether the Greeks find it as hilarious as the Germans. Certainly, the Greeks have in the past seen the funny side of the crisis.

Music from “The Foundation”

This satirical stage show was a big hit in Athens last year. The show, called “The Foundation,” lampooned the Germans for throwing their weight around in Greece, but it also ridiculed the Greeks for their alleged lack of foresight and discipline.

Yannis Sarakatsanis is one of the cast.

Yannis Sarakatsanis: Because we realize that we always find someone else to blame, we wanted to do at last a show and go to the audience and say: ‘It’s your fault, you Greek!’

He says: “Greeks beware — in your midst, there are more Greeks!”

But while the show wowed audiences in Athens last year, this year it bombed. As unemployment has soared above 21 percent, as the spending cuts have bitten more deeply and the tax hikes begun to hurt, Greeks have lost unsurprisingly their appetite for satire, says Yannis.

Sarakatsanis: Political satire looks, it’s like making fun about someone who is dead.

Beard: It’s not funny anymore.

Sarakatsanis: Exactly, it’s not funny. It is a problem now. And people are afraid.


This gloomy song called “Katsarola” seems more in tune now with the national mood. Among the lyrics there are lines like “poverty and dead end, planet earth is bleeding, there’s sadness and bitterness at the ports.”

This is a country that feels on the brink. Whatever new bailout conditions are agreed, concern is rising that Greece won’t be able to deliver them, and that socially, the country cannot cope with any more economic pain.

In Athens, I’m Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

There’s a lot happening in the world.  Through it all, Marketplace is here for you. 

You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible. 

Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.