Isabel Bayrakdarian

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The Gazette (Montreal, Canada)
March 29, 2003 Saturday Final Edition

Soprano finds mass audience with Lord of the Rings: Isabel Bayrakdarian's Armenian hymns moved film's composer to call


Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian has held crowds spellbound in music halls all over the world, but she's never had an audience as big as the one that has been hearing her sing in Lord of the Rings: the Two Towers.

On the phone from Toronto, Bayrakdarian gleefully reminds the caller that the Two Towers soundtrack went on to win a Grammy.

Bayrakdarian says she got the Two Towers call after Academy Award-winning composer Howard Shore heard some of her otherworldly Armenian hymns on her first CD, Joyous Light.

"The composer heard it and said, 'This is the voice I've been looking for,' " she says.

Both Evenstar - the song she sings on the Two Towers soundtrack - and her album's Armenian liturgical music reveal a singer who clearly loves the sound of the pure human voice.

Her repertoire includes opera - she's off to Brussels to sing Elisa in Mozart's Il Re Pastore - but it also features Rachmaninoff's Vocalese and Villa Lobos's Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5, both songs without words.

Bayrakdarian says she's after something very personal in her music.

"What I'm most interested in is beautiful singing, not bel canto repertoire, which is Bellini, Donizetti, Rossini.

"I'm interested in something that speaks to me. That's my main guideline to everything that I sing, whether it's opera, recital or concert."

But what grounds Bayrakdarian's life are her Armenian heritage and Christian tradition. Christos Hatzis's Light From the Cross, dedicated to Bayrakdarian and premiered Wednesday at a concert in Edmonton, is an orchestral treatment of Armenian hymns.

The religious significance is at the foreground for the soprano, who began her singing life in her Armenian church.

Isabel Bayrakdarian will be at Place des Arts on May 7, joining Yuli Turovsky and I Musici de Montreal in a concert of Spanish-flavoured music.

Edmonton Journal

GRAPHIC: Color Photo: CP; Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian: Two Towers soundtrack won a Grammy.

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Opera magazine to present awards to Domingo, Crespin, Graham and others

AP Worldstream; Nov 19, 2005 VERENA DOBNIK

The first Opera News magazine awards are to be presented Sunday, with honors going to Spanish tenor Placido Domingo, French soprano Regine Crespin and three Americans_ mezzo-sopranos Susan Graham and Dolora Zajick, and conductor James Conlon.

The host of the ceremony is "Law & Order" actor Sam Waterston. "For an opera idiot like myself, the first impression is that it expresses the size of the feelings in people's hearts," Waterson said. "That can't be adequately done, except for these big guns of voices and a vast orchestra. When it comes to feelings, opera is a direct whammy."

Co-costing the evening _ a fundraiser to benefit music education _ is rising star Isabel Bayrakdarian, a Canadian soprano of Armenian descent.

Already at the peak is Graham, who won a Grammy earlier this year for an album of American songs by composer Charles Ives and starred in the opera "Dead Man Walking," playing Sister Helen Prejean.

She is the musical darling of Paris, with perfect French diction, but the 6-foot-tall (1.8-meter-tall) singer who loves tooling around on roller blades is proud of her down-to-earth American image. The 45-year-old never saw an opera until she was 18.

Next week, Graham has a lead role in "An American Tragedy," a new opera by New York composer Tobias Picker that premieres at the Metropolitan Opera.

Based on Theodore Dreiser's novel about a social-climbing man who murders his pregnant girlfriend, "it could be the story of Scott Peterson," says Graham. "It's a really American story _ of a man trying to make it, to succeed, who loses his values along the way."

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Toronto Star, Canada Jan 17 2006

Still makes time for local performances

It is such a pleasure seeing a young, talented artist from your hometown make a convincing leap into the international spotlight.

It's an even greater pleasure to have that artist return home to share her talents with an appreciative public.

Such is the case with 31-year-old Toronto-based soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian.

Poised to make her debut at London's Covent Garden in June, and already a veteran of the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York, Bayrakdarian has been generous at home with her time and talents in recent months.

Last fall, she gave a benefit performance to help refurbish the organ at University of Toronto's Convocation Hall. Last month, she sang a demanding program of Rossini opera arias and duets with contralto Marie-Nicole Lemieux at the CBC's Glenn Gould Studio.

And she is even busier locally this month. She has dates with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra's Mozart @ 250 Festival tomorrow and Thursday, the premiere of a documentary about her, A Long Journey Home on CBC Television's Opening Night (also being shown on Thursday), and a big Opera Ontario-sponsored engagement Sunday afternoon with baritone Russell Braun at the Hamilton Place Theatre in Hamilton.

The Hamilton show is a repeat of the program Bayrakdarian and Braun presented this past Sunday afternoon at Kitchener's Centre in the Square.

A two-hour collection of songs and opera arias accompanied by their spouses - Serouj Kradjian and Carolyn Maule, both professionals with thriving piano careers - the Kitchener performance was an unalloyed treat. The repeat date at Hamilton Place on Sunday should be worth the trek.

Braun, who is enjoying a flourishing international career, is an opera natural. His rich, flexible baritone voice and natural stage presence were at their best in Kitchener, especially in a selection of Mozart and Rossini arias and duets.

Bayrakdarian is equally at home with this overtly dramatic material.

She also brings an affecting immediacy to the art-song repertoire.

The Sunday program included rarely heard treats by Robert Schumann's wife Clara and by Armenian composer Gomidas (also known as Komitas).

It is hard to believe that it's only been nine years since Bayrakdarian entered the Metropolitan Opera National Council auditions while in her final year as a biomedical engineering student at University of Toronto.

In 2000, she won Spanish tenor Placido Domingo's prestigious international Operalia competition. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut two years later, and reached across to new audiences with her recording of "Evenstar" for the second instalment of the Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

She continues to make great progress as both an opera and solo recital singer. As Sunday's performance showed, her voice is blooming in both volume and gracefulness.

Born in Lebanon and based in the Toronto area since she was 14, Bayrakdarian makes a special point of her Armenian roots. Her first album, Joyous Light, from 2002, was of Armenian sacred music.

She has just finished recording a disc of Armenian folk songs, of which we get an early taste on TV in A Long Journey Home on Thursday night. This hour-long film follows Bayrakdarian as she makes her first visit to her ancestral land, visiting the Armenian capital of Yerevan and the memorial to people slain in a massacre by Turks in 1915. Best of all, she spends much of her time on screen singing.

With Armenia's rich history, scenery and 1,700-year-old churches as backdrops, Bayrakdarian dips into the gorgeous, varied folk material compiled by Gomitas in the early 20th century. Kradjian, her creative partner and husband, has provided the musical arrangements.

The DVD of the movie, which should be in stores soon, also contains nine bonus tracks as a special feature. Her rendition of "Song to the Moon" from Antonin Dvorak's opera Rusalka, accompanied by full orchestra in Yerevan, is particularly moving.

Unlike many divas, Bayrakdarian always puts the music first, helping it speak clearly and affectingly. Let's hope that is one thing about her that will never change.

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STARS WOW ENTHRALLED FANS by Leonard Turnevicius, The Hamilton Spectator

The Hamilton Spectator (Ontario, Canada) January 24, 2006 Tuesday Final Edition

Book them and they will come. Big names equal big crowd.

Opera Hamilton's inaugural Great Singers Recital Series got off to a great start with a great turnout at Hamilton Place on Sunday afternoon to hear two big names in opera, both proud Canadians: soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and baritone Russell Braun, each accompanied by their respective spouse at the piano, Serouj Kradjian and Carolyn Maule.

The first half was devoted to art songs, but things began on a soft and mildly timorous start in Robert Schumann's duet, Er und Sie. I'm sure Bayrakdarian would like to take back her first couple of notes.

Likewise, Schumann's So wahr die Sonne scheinet didn't feel totally "internalized" as both singers read off music placed on a stand in front of them.

The rest of the program, sung from memory, had each singer appearing in alternation. During three songs by Clara Schumann, Bayrakdarian's German wasn't quite echt on the words zieht, neu and reizendes. Yet, Er ist gekommen in Sturm und Regen was an emotionally charged number.

The Lebanese-born Bayrakdarian hit her stride in four Armenian songs by Komitas, music sung straight from her soul. In Ervoom em/Shogher Jan (I'm Burning With Love/Dear Shogher), Bayrakdarian's swaying head and gently swivelling hips told more of the story than could be found in the program booklet's translations.

Similarly, the German-born Braun has German art songs coursing through his veins. His diction was superb in three songs from Schumann's Liederkreis op. 39, though he took two oddly placed snatch breaths in Mondnacht. However, Braun's French wasn't as crystal clear early on in Ravel's Don Quichotte a Dulcinee.

Rounding out the first half, Maule and Kradjian presented the piano four-hands Prelude, and Intermezzo Nationaltanz from Schumann's Spanische Liebes-Lieder.

The program heated up with operatic arias and duets from Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, and Don Giovanni, as well as Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia. Braun's voice was hardy in Vedrò mentr'io sospiro.

Bayrakdarian countered with a lovely rendition of Canadian composer Derek Holman's clever elaboration on Giunse alfin il momento/Deh vieni, non tardar.

With arias such as Deh vieni alla finestra, and Finch' han dal vino, Braun gave us a tantalizing taste of the Don Giovanni that Opera Hamilton fans were to have heard in February. (That production is now slated for the fall, but without Braun.) There was a cute ending to La ci darem la mano, where Maule broke up the hanky-panky between Giovanni (Braun) and Zerlina (Bayrakdarian) with a forcefully played cadence.

Braun began Figaro's Largo al factotum from the wings, glad-handing as he ran past the front row before bounding onto the stage. The entire aria was a tour de force that received a rousing response from the audience. Not to be outdone, Bayrakdarian's rendition of Una voce poco fa, sung with a lighter voice, had lots of vocal fireworks.

Bayrakdarian's florid ways showed with Rossini's original melodic line in the duet Dunque io son. The audience rose to its feet.

Each pair gave an encore: Bayrakdarian and Kradjian with Rossini's delightful Canzonetta Spagnuola; Braun and Maule an old-time Canadian parlour song, once a Caruso favourite, Geoffrey O'Hara's Your Eyes Have Told Me What I Did Not Know. I don't know how Opera Hamilton' s general director David Speers is going to top this recital next season.

Leonard Turnevicius is a music educator and organist.

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