04 May 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Agnes Baltsa – Carmen meets Octavian

Agnes Baltsa is a Greek singer, born in 1944. She worked with Karajan over 15 years and in his final years was his first choice for demanding mezzo parts.

“We were Karajan’s children. He shaped us. He loved us. Of course, he stressed us out in the rehearsals. This respect for his person… But in concert or on stage he was just the best ‘Kapellmeister’. When I said to him after the concert: ‘I’m sorry, I breathed at a moment when we agreed I shouldn’t’, he would say ‘Agnes, that doesn’t matter. It was wonderful.’”

Baltsa was a convincing actress who was able to take on parts as different as Carmen and Octavian, Eboli and Donna Elvira. Nor did she hesitate to shoulder “special missions” for Karajan recordings, like Herodias in “Salome” and one of the three ladies in “The Magic Flute”. Karajan especially valued her voice in sacred works by Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Verdi and Bruckner.

“’Maestro, I am so nervous and flustered,’ announced the firebrand from Lefkas. ‘You are neither nervous nor flustered,’ retorted Karajan. ‘You merely wish to be.’” (Richard Osborne)

In summer 1986, in fact during the dress rehearsal for the stage revival of the 1985 “Carmen”, Karajan and the impassioned diva got into an argument and he dismissed her summarily. Baltsa, who had recorded Donna Elvira for Karajan in 1985, wasn’t allowed to perform the part at the Salzburg production in 1987/88. But there was a happy ending! In 1989, she performed the Verdi Requiem for the last time with Karajan. It was his final concert with the Berlin Philharmonic. A few months later:

“In 1989, I had to sing the most difficult concert in my life. Mozart’s Requiem in Salzburg cathedral. It was the funeral concert for Herbert von Karajan. That was incredibly difficult!”

Agnes Baltsa in 2021


We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan and Agnes Baltsa. Listen to them here.


ludwigbeck.de 7 October 2021

Richard Osborne “Karajan. A Life in Music” Chatto & Windus, London. 1998

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