Agnes Baltsa / Achilleas Wastor - Prinzregententheater Munich, 24 July 2010
Agnes Baltsa sustains an operatic career well into her seventh decade largely due to intelligent and realistic repertoire choices. Like this evening of Greek songs. I wasn't familiar with the material itself or even the composers (Mikis Theodorakis, Stavros Xarhakos, Manos Hadzidakis, Vassilis Tsitsanis and Spiros Peristeris). From the listener's perspective it's all melodic, accessible, late 20th century stuff, with a heavy nod to folk and popular influences. From the singer's side, the technical demands in terms of lung power and range are limited; but the dramatic skills required to sustain interest in the limited musical line are immense. Ideal fuel for Baltsa (as are her current stage roles, Klytemnestra and Kostelnicka).
Statuesque in a rigid taffeta polka dot gown and cheeky red peeptoes, Baltsa could pass for half her age. Must be all that Swiss mountain air in her current home. Her astonishing Tammy Wynette 'do has an unfortunate reflective property that cacked up all my photos, but in person she looked fresh-faced, firm-jawed and radiant.
She has two voices. One is hard, slender and deep, a sort of refined belting. The other is the more familiar operatic mezzo, now somewhat frayed and tremulous, but still astonishing in a singer her age. She sang most of the recital in the first voice, moving into the second only late in the game. Although the Greek texts and a German translation were provided, I soon dropped them. Baltsa invested so much of herself in each note, everything was there in the music. I've heard lovelier voices, but few who can locate the kernel of a song and wring out its meaning with such dramatic veracity. There are no cabaret singer tricks either; she sticks to the notes, and barely moves, but somehow connects with every member of the audience.
Her impressive accompanist, Achilleas Wastor, clearly loved the music as much as she did. Playing without a score all night, he was acutely sensitive to her needs and provided punchy and blessedly brief solo interludes.