Amfion pro musica classica

interview: A psychoanalytical interview with a composer: a discussion about Kharálampos Goyós’ Anthony’s Death


The Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), designed by the architect Renzo Piano and inaugurated in 2016 might not be open to the public due the covid-19 pandemic. The SNFCC houses the Greek National Opera and, like many opera houses in the world, offers a service of streaming (the Greek National Opera TV: In its 2021 schedule, which is otherwise dedicated to the bicentennial of the Greek Independence War, online audiences saw throughout mid-May and June the performance of Anthony’s Death, a chamber opera by the Greek composer Kharálampos Goyós1.

The opera tackles issues concerning love relationships and how social classes and their respective morality affects them. This is mostly evident in the dialogues between Sergius (Vassilis Kavayas) and Paulus (Georgios Iatrou) – The work of costume designer Ioanna Tsami is also relevant on this issue: Sergius is depicted more as an adventurer with his leather jacket whilst Paulus is depicted more as a British nobleman using haute couture costumes (Figure 1). The couple aims to achieve social recognition and becoming rich by means of a successful hunting, or else, by giving name to what is nameless, the affective dimension of their Desire – hence their failure.

Figure 1 – Sergius (left) and Paulus (right) singing a love duet. Photo Andreas Simopoulos/Greek National Opera

Figure 1 – Sergius (left) and Paulus (right) singing a love duet. Photo Andreas Simopoulos/Greek National Opera

Sergius and Paulus are a solid depiction of an hesitant couple that fails to kiss but are ironically successful at shooting each other – and not the fox/vixen that they are hunting, or at least are trying to attribute a name: “Martha, Xenia, Pighí, … Lucia… Red” (Filias & Goyós, 2006, n.p.), all stands as possibilities for the nameless object of their masculine desire that consummates the hunting, a red fox, a woman dressed in red (The Red One: Marissia Papalexiou), their impossible desire which takes places at the dissociated relationship between the thing and its name (cf. Stavrakakis, 2021) hence their death, which also emulates Anthony’s death, the character from the 1970’s manga, namely Candy Candy, that reached great popularity in the 1980’s when the anime for the TV reached the Greek audience. Sergius and Paulus can only die, for they are deeply identified with the androgynous character of Anthony, who dies in the anime, thus failing to be the romantic partner of Candy.

The ambiguity of Sergius and Paulus takes place in a setting described by the composer as a clearing – like Heidegger’s ([1950] 2002) Lichtung: Thanks to this clearing, beings are unconcealed in certain and changing degrees” (p. 30). In the words of Eero Tarasti (1995), that “which gives place to both presence and absence” (p. 37). In psychoanalytic terms, Sergius and Paulus are affective and erotically consumed by ambivalence which is ”characteristic of certain phases of libidinal development in which love and destructive tendencies towards the object are to be found alongside each other” (Laplanche & Pontalis, [1967] 1973, p. 27). Therefore, the evolution of their performance depicts a regression whilst aiming at a progression. What does the couple want? To be famous, rich and respected. And that is why they hunt… Still, they can’t afford to truly love each other, they can’t work as couple – there is a lack of support, and indeed, they hurt more than they care for each other.

They want, both of them, to be famous like Anthony. Both of them want to give a title to a play that Sergius is writing. But they fail to give a name to it and to the… fox/vixen, which works as a metaphor for their incapability of coming out of the closet: they are miles away from it, but fail to name that place which they have stemmed from. Their being is heavily maculated by social practices, thus preventing them from actually enjoying themselves in a bodily level.

In a musicological sense, the music oscillates between a symmetrical accompaniment to the voice at the chords which is by an asymmetrical ostinato at the harpsichord (this aspect is commented in Goyós [2017]). There is a “shooting motive” presented right at the beginning of the opera (after the first hunting motive), which is depicted below in Figure 2:

Figure 2 - Shooting Motive from Goyós’ Anthony's Death

Figure 2 – Shooting Motive from Goyós’ Anthony’s Death

This shooting motive might be interpreted as the departure from the conflict between the sung parts and their accompaniments. This musical motive could be seen as an epithet to the title of the play that Sergius is writing: the reader should not be acquainted with its meaning at the beginning, but rather to understand as it appears throughout the opera: it appears when Paulus realizes that others are hunting, and that they are better organized, thus creating a phobic episode in him. It also appears when the couple attempts to give a name to their ineffable desire: “Fuchs, renard, Red One” (Filias & Goyós, 2006, n.p). And it also appears when the couple is arguing about the name of the play that Sergius is writing. Then, when Sergius steals the role of Anthony from Paulus, the same motive appears again, when Paulus is ascribed to the role of a woman – the one that might have killed Anthony, them, or their desire.

At the end of the opera, The Red One plays with the idea of shooting at the conductor (Kharálampos Goyós), reenacting an attempt from Paulus who earlier aimed at the string ensemble, which is found at the front-centre-left in the middle of the stage (in a chamber). The ensemble indeed plays a part in the acting, when they, before playing music, walk around the flowers which are displayed in a way that resembles a clearing in the middle of a forest. The set design by Artemis Flessa allows for curious interactions between musicians and actors. Nonetheless, the most memorable moment of the acting conceived by Dimitris Karantzas is when Paulus and Sergius ride in their carousel horses (Figure 3).

Figure 3 – Sergius (left) and Paulus (right) ride their horses towards their death. Photo Andreas Simopoulos/Greek National Opera

Figure 3 – Sergius (left) and Paulus (right) ride their horses towards their death. Photo Andreas Simopoulos/Greek National Opera

In the following section there is a reproduction of a short interview with the composer Kharálampos Goyós, who speaks of his ideas concerning his opera Anthony’s Death.


Daniel Röhe, question 1: Dear Mr. Goyós, in 2017 I had the pleasure to attend to a performance of your Twilight of the Debts for the Greek National Opera’s Alternative Stage at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center. And in 2021, May 23, I’ve enjoyed the première of your new opera on the same alternative stage – Anthony’s Death (which I of course saw from home).

These alternative works make me remember of the Holland Festival (2019), which fosters the “renewal of art [that] can also change something in the audience” (p. 10)”. One of its past contributors, namely Philip Glass, composed a neo-baroque Harpsichord Concerto (2006), and to me, it seems that you’ve followed a similar path in your Anthony’s Death. At this point, I would like “to open that can of worms” (Goyós, 2017, p. 247) which you’ve mentioned at your paper published at the International Journal of Žižek Studies. You might be contrasting the attempt of modern people that aretrying his/her darnedest to keep up with the, almost impossible, task of intellectual mastery over a multiform, contingent world that attacks him/her mercilessly from all directions” (ibid. p. 239) with the “traditional, humanistic attempts at meaning-making” (ibid. p. 241). How do you relate the ideological and reactionary qualities of the Baroque in your opera to a contemporary world-view and how contemporary operas deal with the subject whilst changing the audience?

Kharálampos Goyós: I grew up in the 80s and 90s, in a post-Reagan, post-Thatcher, completely marketised society, in which (especially after the fall of the ideological bogeyman of the Soviet Union and the practical outlawing of all “grand narratives”, with the notion of “progress” as figurehead) the artist’s relationship to tradition is no longer antagonistic, but rather symbiotic. In this context, the revival of baroque music, with its more and more recherché repertoire and “gourmet” performing practices, imposes itself as the ultimate late capitalist best-seller, a veritable entrepreneur’s wet dream, given its endless possibilities of hydra-like renewal through forced resuscitation of (justly) forgotten works and star-making turns for “iconoclastic” performers. Markedly absent from all this is the old-fashioned, universalist category of truth, conspicuously replaced by a thoroughgoing aestheticisation of individual experience—a total(itarian) experiential marketplace, evidenced by the ubiquity of the pressing injunction to enjoy, enjoy, no matter what. As the dimension of truth subsides, the neo-Baroque rises with its concept of a society “built on the concept of art” (Saisselin, 1992, p. 6) and its “blurring of the distinction between illusion and reality” (ibid, p. 46). I do believe that the Baroque revival is a real symptom of a universal ideological regression of our times towards the values of the pre-Enlightenment.

As you realise, I don’t really like the neo-Baroque revival, and the harpsichord’s role in Anthony’s Death is, in its way, also parodic, a painful scratching of an unpleasant societal toe itch. Its main role, however, is not the cultural reference to the Baroque but my way of embodying one of the main musical obsessions of the work, namely the contradiction (in the old-fashioned, Maoist sense) between symmetry and asymmetry, control and freedom, rigorous invention and stereotypical fancy. In Anthony’s Death, the vocal lines have primacy; they were written first and their material is essentially free and language-based—until the finale, at least, the vocal melodies are more or less contingent. But the strings and electric guitar accompaniment “traps” them in determinism: recursive scales (with no beginning or end), symmetrical chords and dyadic relationships enmesh the lines of the two men in a game of vertical (and progressively horizontal) mirroring, in which every note conjures its spectral double—as if the very sky were metaphorically (fore)closed. In this context, the harpsichord, which tries (not always successfully) to accompany the vocal lines “humanistically”, with recourse to its traditional, asymmetrical diatonic and triadic language, provides the only line of flight from the suffocating symmetry of the rest of the orchestral material (with the possible exception of the “clean” electric guitar solo shortly before the ending, inspired by Froberger’s Méditation sur ma mort future ([1660] 2015)—another nod to the neo-Baroque).

I was also interested in the “documentary” use of the harpsichordist, namely using the player themself as “found” material, whose personality and freedom might give another opening to a somewhat stifling work. Nevertheless, the ultimate tragedy of this configuration is that the harpsichordist possesses no other language with which to break the aforementioned symmetries except the safe, historicised stereotypes of continuo playing; not having any other tools with which to open up the contingent givens of reality, they can only fall back on the well-known, prefabricated musical codes. (In this context, maybe it is worth noting that, in my country, my arrangements—such as Twilight of the Debts—have received far more critical attention than my original work. This is, I think, understandable: in our cultural moment, as can be seen in almost every field, most people prefer the safety of the known. Let me be clear, however, that this is not a moralistic judgement on my part—there is a genuine enjoyment to be found in the familiar.) When finally, in the “cathartic” ending, the harpsichord falls silent (after the two men have died and the monstrous woman enters), everything is finally trapped in the symmetry—this finale is not a “beyond”.

Changing the audience is, I think, a favourite fantasy of the artist. However, in our increasingly atomised situation (and I’m thinking here of someone like Houellebecq), this is, in my opinion, impossible—at least without wider, decisive societal change. Nowadays, I fear, the grim conclusion of Weill and Brecht’s Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny ([1929] 2005) is more valid than ever: “Können uns und euch und niemand helfen.” (“We cannot help ourselves nor you nor anyone.”)

Nevertheless, I still believe that art can influence at least the way the audience dreams—which is, in itself, a big responsibility.

Question 2: The audience might notice that not only the harpsichord echoes a tradition from the erudite repertoire. Also the hunting topics, in the way Raymond Monelle (2006) wrote of it, is a prominent feature in Anthony’s Death. Haydn made extensive use of it, for instance. One might also recall the visit of Count von Sporck to the court of Louis XIV, and there the Count learned about the trompe de chasse and then a school of horn players was founded in Bohemia (Monelle, 2006). And then Leoš Janáček (1924) composed his Příhody lišky Bystroušky, which depicts not the αλεπού (alepou), the renard, the Fuchs or the лисиця (lysytsya), but rather the liška (who is called Bystrouška), who ends up dead, contrarily to what happens to the fox/vixen that Anthony was hunting. Further, Monelle (2006) recalled that hunting involved an erotic dimension – the quarry was presented as a gift to a lady after his return from the distant environment of the hunting. Would you like to comment on this issue and how you’ve explored the hunting topic on seven different moments of your opera?

KG: In Anthony’s Death, the hunting topic is rather overdetermined. As you noticed, there is of course a reference to the time-honoured musical hunting conventions. In addition, there are the issues raised by the interesting phallic connotations of the horn found in the literature (cf., for example, Wagner’s Siegfried ([1876] 1983)), which here betray also the latent erotic charge between the two men. The hunting topic in my work interestingly goes back to my very first opera, Little Red Riding Hood and the (Good) Wolf (2008), which ends with the brutal, arrogantly masculine hunter breaking in, killing the feminised, sensitive Wolf and taking off with Little Red Riding Hood. There, I think the theme was inspired by Schubert’s Die schöne Müllerin ([1823] 1960) and its surprisingly modern questioning of masculinity. (Coincidentally [?], my grandfather, whose name was Αντώνης [Anthony], used to be a fanatical hunter until a surprising late-life conversion!) In Anthony’s Death, however, I believe that my unconscious model was Verdi’s Don Carlos ([1867] 1980), both main versions of which—the original five-act as well as the revised four-act version—begin with unaccompanied horns. (Don Carlos happened to be the first full-length opera I saw and loved as a child, and Anthony’s Death borrows from it several important thematic elements, such as the explicit neuroticism, the charged, homosocial tenor-baritone bond, the formal—and probably sexual—significance of the gunshot and the extended, virtuosic female aria in the last act.)

Incidentally, my favourite joke in Anthony’s Death is the inexplicable substitution of the hunting horns by trumpets in the last appearance of the fanfare. There, at some level at least, I think I had in mind the Mahlerian schönen Trompeten ([1905] 2012) and the transcendental promise of his ever-present/absent offstage bands, as well as the apocalyptic connotations of “the last trump” ushering in the “woman dressed in purple and scarlet” of the Book of Revelation.

From a purely musical perspective, the horns and trumpets are the endpoint of the stratified spectrum of responses to the vocal lines in Anthony’s Death. As stated before, in addition to the symmetrical writing for the strings and guitar, there is the asymmetrical, tonal writing for the harpsichord, which offers a first “line of flight” from the rigorous controls of the rest of the music. Both of these accompaniments, however, presuppose the traditional—symmetrical—equal temperament in order to work (both individually and in tandem). The natural horns and trumpets, on the other hand, written in strictly natural intonation, introduce a discreet dialectisisation of tuning, representing the only real (though inaccessible) “beyond” of the work—alongside, perhaps, the “pure” sound created by the escalating distortion effects of the electric guitar and the vulgar amplification of the finale. My favourite parts of the opera are the sections in which a kind of macro-counterpoint between all three levels is being played out.

Question 3: Perhaps your main inspiration for the opera was not the myth of Artemis, but rather a Japanese anime derived from a homonymous manga from the 1970s. Was it your intention to bring opera to the attention of the Otaku community, or were you aiming at bringing mangas and animes to the attention of opera audiences? Moreover, you have chosen a kind of anime that contrasts with the heroic and masculine imagery of hunting, namely the kind of anime which tells of love-stories. Do you have a personal relation with animes and mangas? Would you like to mention other animes and mangas that have influenced you? And finally, how do you understand the gender issues that are related to animes and mangas (stories for boys and stories for girls) and how have you applied your own view on the issue upon the conception of your opera?

KG: Actually (and despite the pastel-coloured, anime-like ambience conjured by our stage designer, another Artemis!), I have no personal relation whatsoever with neither animes nor mangas. My interest in Candy Candy (the anime from which the opera takes off) was purely cultural, and involved the impact the series had on my generation of young spectators when the trauma of Anthony’s fictional death hit our TV screens in the mid-80s. That was a time of rapid political transition in Greece: ten years had passed since the collapse of the military dictatorship and a self-styled “socialist” party—PASOK—was in government for the first time, engendering major societal and economic changes. The anxieties of the era were further intensified by the invisible, apocalyptic spectres of Chernobyl (and its very literal foreclosure of the sky) and AIDS. I had no conscious interest in “bridging” disparate audiences—and in any case I think the opera makes rather perverse and ironic use of a venerable IP (“intellectual property”, as the franchise-besotted fashion of our age is wont to call it). Although you could rightly claim that the opera can be inscribed in a populist vein present in my work since the beginning; it certainly betrays a low-brow, communicative desire/ambition.

Regarding the gender issues, I think that we all felt them very acutely in Greece in the 80s! Confessing that we watched (let alone cried over) a “girly” anime such as Candy Candy was practically verboten for Greek boys at the time—though we probably all did. Mixing this with the pale, blond, Björn Andrésen-like male beauty of the figure of Anthony (a style known in anime culture as bishōnen, as I recently learned) results in a distinctly “queer” (and, dare I say, baroque!) sensibility, a kind of gender confusion that certainly informs the work.

Question 4: In my final question, I should turn the attention to psychoanalysis. And not only because I have been a psychotherapist enlightened by psychoanalysis since my undergraduate studies, but rather because you have consciously made use of a text from Žižek in your libretto with Mr. Filias. Apart from an opera based in Freud’s Dora Case (2021), I believe that your composition is the only one which incorporates a psychoanalytic text into an opera libretto. Now, this is interesting because we know of many psychoanalytic texts that studies librettos and scores from operas (cf. Välimaki, 2005; Röhe et al., 2020; Röhe, 2021), whether such texts were written from practicing or not practicing psychoanalysts. I would like you to tell us about your previous experience with psychoanalysis beyond that which you have commented in your paper at the International Journal of Žižek Studies (namely, the parallel you make between Žižek and Immanuel Kant)?

KG: Interesting that psychoanalysis is being narrativised in the “unnatural” medium of opera in this particular historical juncture! For me, the very process of composition is psychoanalytical. My work is intimately tied with language, and I find myself almost constitutionally unable to compose anything other than sung theatre. When writing, I consistently struggle against my obsessional compulsion to control everything through giving in to the contingency of what language and singers bring to the table. By applying my “totalising” efforts to singers and language, I know that I’m practically setting myself up for failure—which inadvertently opens up the dimension of true universality! The composition of Anthony’s Death was particularly taxing for me, taking years of struggle and engendering several weird symptoms—even physical ones, such as an insistent (literal, this time) toe itch, which tormented me for several years only to disappear instantly the moment I finished exporting the double bass part of the opera. It also encompassed two important life events: my entering analysis in a consistent way in 2016, and my father’s death in 2019. Both events were instrumental, I think, in the completion of the work.

I find composing inherently psychoanalytical also in the sense that I try to trust my murky impulses, even when I don’t understand them. Regarding the setting of the Žižek text which weirdly forms the basis for the woman’s aria at the end, I must say that I never attempted to use it as clarifying commentary, as interpretation of what came before. Rather, and in keeping with the “exotic” nature and tradition of the genre of opera as a whole (highlighted also by Mladen Dolar and Žižek himself [2002, pp. viii-ix]), I attempted to “re-mystify” Žižek himself, immerse him in hearty, obscene, quasi-Joycean (and we know how Žižek hates Joyce!) enjoyment of wordplay and free association, and even render him unfashionably “obscurantist” (which also brings up my earlier comparison with Kant). And this, also, may be an act of parricide on my part—what poor Don Carlos never managed to do.


• Dora, the Opera. (2021). Dora, the Opera. Composed by Melissa Shiflett with Libretto by Nancy Fales Garrett. Retrieved from
Filias, Y., & Goyós, K. (2006). Anthony’s Death, libretto, unpublished.
Froberger, J. J. (2015). Méditation sur ma mort future. [CD: Toccatas and Partitas / Meditation / Lamentation on the Death of Ferdinand III]. Hong Kong: Naxos. (Original work published 1660)

• Glass, Philip. (2006). Concerto for Harpsichord and Orchestra [CD: The Concerto Project Vol. II]. East Hampton: Orange Mountain Music
Goyós, K. (2008). Η Κοκκινοσκουφίτσα και ο (καλός) λύκος [Little Red Riding Hood and the (Good) Wolf] [CD]. Athens: Orchestra of Colours.

• Goyós, K. (2017). Anthony’s Death: Opera under the Condition of Žižek. International Journal of Žižek Studies, 11(3), 229-247.
Heidegger, M. (2002). The Origin of the work of art. In J. Young & K. Haynes (Eds.), Off the Beaten Track (pp. 1-56). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1950)
Laplanche, J., & Pontalis, J. B. (1973). The Language of Psychoanalysis. London: The International Psychoanalytical Library, Hogarth & Institute of Psychoanalysis. (Original work published 1967)

• Lekkerkerker, A.; Valknburg, A. (2019). HF19. In V. Kouters, E. Theys and M. de Zeeuw (Eds.), Holland Festival (pp. 10-13). Hardinxveld-Giessendam: Tuijtel.
Janáček, L. (1924). Příhody lišky Bystroušky. Vienna: Universal Edition.
Mahler, G. (2012). Wo die schönen Trompeten blasen. In Ten Songs from Des Knaben Wunderhorn. Mineola: Dover Publications (Original work published 1905)

• Monelle, R. (2006) The Musical Topic. Hunt, Military and Pastoral. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.
Röhe, D.; Martins, F.; Conceição, M. (2020). Oedipus goes to the opera. Psychoanalytic inquiry in Enescu’s Œdipe and Stravinsky’s Oedipus Rex. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 29(1), 27-38. DOI: 10.1080/0803706X.2018.1562219
Röhe, D. (2021, in press). Oedipus Returns to the Opera: The Repressed in Psychoanalysis and Musicology. International Forum of Psychoanalysis, 1-15.
Saisselin, R. G. (1992). The Enlightenment Against the Baroque: Economics and Aesthetics in the Eighteenth Century. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Schubert, F. (1960). Die schöne Müllerin. In M. Friedlander (Ed.), Gesänge für eine Singstimme mit Klavierbegleitung (pp. 4–53). Leipzig: Edition Peters. (Original work published 1824)

• Stavrakakis, G. (2021). Η όπερα ως αναζήτηση, η αναζήτηση ως ματαίωση; Θριαμβευτικά! [Opera as search, search as frustration? Triumphantly!]. In K. Goyós (Εd.), Ο θάνατος του Άντονυ [Anthony’s Death] pp. 30-36). Athens: Greek National Opera
Tarasti, E. (1995). Musical Signification: Essays in the Semiotic Theory and Analysis of Music. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.
Välimäki, S. (2005). Subject strategies in music. A psychoanalytical approach to musical signification. Imatra: International Semiotics Institute; Helsinki: Semiotics Society of Finland
Verdi, G. (1980). Don Carlos. U. Günther and L. Petazzoni (Eds.). Milan: Ricordi. (Original work published 1867)

• Wagner, R. (1983). Siegfried. Mineola: Dover Publications (Original work published 1876)
• Weill, K. (2005). Aufstieg und Fall der Stadt Mahagonny. Vienna: Universal Edition. (Original work published 1929)
• Žižek, S., & Dolar, M. (2002). Opera’s Second Death. New York: Routledge.

1 Then, The Greek National Opera extended the streaming of Anthony’s Death until July, 5.

– Daniel Röhe

Daniel Röhe, Ph.D., is a psychotherapist with private practice in Brazil. He is author and co-author of works about opera and psychoanalysis published in English and in Portuguese. He is the International Communication Advisor for the Academy of Cultural Heritages (special area Latin America).


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