Isabel Baykardarian and the Manitoba Chamber Ensemble with Anne Magson
Photo: mine 2008
Talk about the right material for the right singer at the right time. I’ve always had warm feelings for soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian
. Like most opera goers, I know her primarily for bright and shiny Mozart roles such as Susannah and Zerlina. But I wasn’t quite prepared to see her take the whole thing up a notch in Orange County on Sunday as part of the Philharmonic Society series
at the Segerstrom Concert Hall. The stars aligned for her that evening and she gave a spectacular heart-felt performance that produced one of the more enthusiastic crowd reactions I’ve seen in Orange County in awhile.
Her program, which was played with the assistance of the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
under Anne Manson, focused almost exclusively on the songs of late 19th century Armenian composer Gomidas Vartabed with Ravel’s Deux mélodies hébraïques
thrown in for good measure. Gomidas, of whom I knew virtually nothing before tonight, was a priest in the Armenian church and worked to preserve both liturgical and folk melodies of his people before he, like millions of others, were dislocated as part of the Armenian genocide. While Gomidas escaped with his life, things were irrevocably changed for him afterwards as millions of his people were killed under the auspices of the Ottoman Empire. If there's anyone who could make an argument for these songs it is undoubtedly Bayrakdarian and she does so in spades.
While many of these Gomidas’ songs about love, yearning, and nature were simple and straightforward in a folk tradition, Bayrakdarian gave them such loving attention that they developed a fierce life of their own. Often sounding more like a mezzo than a soprano, Bayrakdarian operated with ease in the lower part of her range and delivered a committed and ravishing performance I won’t soon forget. Her husband and accompanist Serouj Kradjian joined her on many numbers and performed a few of Gomidas’ folk dances in an interlude as well.
This performance was the second on Bayrakdarian’s “Remembrance Tour” dedicated to the victims of all genocides that will cross the country this fall with appearances at Carnegie Hall among other places. She has also recorded a new release
featuring many of these works on the Nonesuch label, which is being touted in her PR materials as the first widely available recording of these songs in the West. While I’ve not heard it yet, I can say that if it is a quarter as good as Sunday’s performance, it’s a must.
Labels: Philharmonic Society OC