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Badarak as Grand Opera, ARARAT Quarterly, Winter 1999

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Badarak As Grand Opera

by C.K. Garabed

ARARAT Literary Quarterly

Winter 1999

The dictionary definition of Opera goes something like this: A drama wholly or mostly sung, consisting of recitative, arias, duets, etc., with orchestral accompaniment and appropriate costumes, scenery, and action.

Let's add the definition of Grand Opera, where plot is elaborated as in serious drama, set the entire text to music, and we can make a case for considering the Badarak grand opera. After all, the ingredients are practically all there.

First, there is the dramatic aspect to the Badarak, the Armenian Liturgy. Can it be denied that it is a tale of tragedy and triumph, and that the central figure, although invisible, nevertheless is spiritually present at all times?

The cast of characters also includes a high priest, lesser members of the priesthood, such as deacons, acolytes, clerks, etc., a chorus (choir) and in modern times, an organ that simulates a miniature orchestra. Functioning as conductor is the Choirmaster, and last but not least is the audience composed of the parishioners.

The elements of the work are there as well. The best example of recitative is the Havadamk (Nicene Creed). There are arias galore in the form of Sharagans. Certainly a grand duet between deacon and choir is the “Amen yev unt hokvooyt koom. “

Not to be overlooked are the costumes of the high priest, deacons, acolytes, clerks and choir members.

The scenery is there: a curtained stage featuring an altar with all its ornamentation, candles, and icons, albeit on a reduced scale.

There is action, of course, on the part of everyone, and that includes the audience, even if it is only alternately standing, sitting and kneeling.

Percussion instruments are to be found as well, such as kshots, a fan-like metal plate with tiny bells, mounted on a pole, which the deacons twist and snap or gently shake to simulate the sounds of the wings of angels hovering nearby. On high feast days, even cymbals have been known to be used in connection with the performance of celebratory hymns.

An added element is the censer, which the deacons swing to and fro to circulate the odor of the burning incense within. In this way, in addition to sight and sound, the appeal of the sense of smell is added.

The Badarak opera is usually presented in two acts. An intermission between is usually devoted to a sermon by the high priest and is directed to all present. The durability of the opera is attested to by the fact that it is performed in every Armenian Apostolic Church every Sunday of the year, and lasts approximately two hours. This includes a prologue that consists of vocal solos (Hymns of Vesting), which are sung as the high priest dons his costume backstage with the help of the deacons, as well as an epilogue consisting of a relatively brief service for the repose of souls.

And there you have it!