Melbourne gave Nana Mouskouri the welcome she deserved for her unexpected and generous concert, after 10 years and a reluctant acceptance that she had retired. A packed Hamer Hall was testament to the legend of this Greek chanteuse, so unique, so identified with a particular community, yet so emblematic of a time when popular music flowered in many unexpected ways.
A video screened before she came on stage brought back memories for many in the audience as well as tracing the changing look of this iconic artist – apart, of course, from the trademark dark-framed glasses! The film transitioned nicely into the arrival of Mouskouri herself and her band (whose saxophone player is one of its great strengths). If her voice was to falter a little on Try to remember, who cared? The hall was full of memories, and a precious new one in the making.
Although we know she was Conservatorium trained for a while, Classic Melbourne is not trying to suggest Mouskouri was a Maria Callas … but we appreciate that Callas could never quite be a Mouskouri either. The two met many years ago in a nightclub when Callas asked Mouskouri to sing for her (The almond tree) and reportedly advised her: “The important thing is not what you do but how well you do it.”
Now aged 80, Mouskouri is still doing it well. Of course there are some compromises with the voice, mainly in its flexibility. But this professional wisely chooses a lower register to sing in and with breath control manages those high notes when she needs them. A highlight of the night was of course her signature White Rose of Athens, with Both sides now newer to her repertoire but well suited to the sentiment of the night, as was the great old standard, Somewhere over the rainbow. Plaisir d’amour and Amazing grace both belong in this category, evoking emotion and memories which surpassed the occasional lack of perfection in their execution.
Tribute was paid to Amy Winehouse, with a rendition of Love is a losing game, a song which suited Mouskouri’s mature voice, especially complemented by that mellow saxophone.
But with a number of traditional songs interspersed throughout the program this was a night when the Greek community again claimed Mouskouri as one of their own. She may have been saying farewell but many households would have again rung to the sound of this wonderful performer in the days following this concert … whether on vinyl, CD, iPod or YouTube or streaming. And that would not just be for those of Greek origin!