Cleopatra of Armenia
Praised for years by the likes of the New York Times and The Guardian for her opera performances, Isabel Bayrakdarian’s voice is matched by an irresistible stage presence.
And what a voice it is. Supremely virtuosic but strikingly multihued, it resonates with audiences wherever it’s heard—from the Lord of the Rings soundtrack to the world’s top opera and concert houses. Her voice has also changed the MCO forever. With Isabel, we’ve toured to Carnegie Hall, enchanted our hometown audience, and recorded a JUNO-nominated CD.
At her June concert with the MCO, Isabel sings arias by master-composers Gluck, Hasse, and Vivaldi—all from operas titled Il Tigrane. The title is a reference to Armenian King Tigran II. His reign, which saw Armenia emerge as the strongest state to Rome’s east, inspired a libretto by Francesco Silvani that was adapted separately by the three composers just mentioned. But it’s the King’s wife Cleopatra (no, not that Cleopatra) who is the focus of Isabel’s project.
The singer tells us that while “historians omitted Cleopatra’s name and existence completely … she was instrumental in making him the greatest king in Armenian history.” Evidently she also inspired some tremendous arias, which Isabel promises to deliver with her usual lyricism and virtuosity. Anne Manson conducts.
A scorching conclusion to the MCO’s 19/20 season and perfect way to usher in the summer!
It’s no exaggeration to say that the Armenian-Canadian soprano burst onto the international opera scene. In 1997, the same year she graduated cum laude in engineering from the University of Toronto, Isabel was a winner in the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions. A fork in the road lay before her. That she chose the artistic path now hardly seems like a gamble, because the illustrious career that has followed has been so well deserved.
The concert begins at 7.30pm on June 9th in Westminster United Church, 745 Westminster at Maryland. Tickets, at $36 for adults, $34 for seniors and $15 for students and those under-30 (incl. GST), are available at McNally Robinson, Organic Planet (877 Westminster Ave), and on MCO’s Ticketline at 204-783-7377.
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Manitoba Chamber Orchestra
Anne Manson, Music Director
Karl Stobbe, Concertmaster
Westminster United Church
9 June 2020
Anne Manson, conductor
Isabel Bayrakdarian, soprano
Queen of Armenia
—arias by Vivaldi, Hasse and Gluck, based on the libretto by Silvani about the Armenian King Tigran II, whose wife, Cleopatra, played a crucial role in his reign.
Johann Adolph Hasse
Sinfonia in G Minor
Christoph Willibald Gluck
Dance of the Furies
Concert Sponsor / Gail Asper Family Foundation Inc.
It’s not every prima donna who can boast a degree in biomedical engineering, but then, Isabel Bayrakdarian isn’t your average prima donna.
A winner of the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions—the same year she graduated from the University of Toronto cum laude with a Biomedical Engineering Degree—Ms. Bayrakdarian thereafter found her career taking rapid wing. She scored a notable success in the Lyric Opera of Chicago’s world premiere production of William Bolcom’s A View from the Bridge; the following year, she walked away from Plácido Domingo’s prestigious Operalia competition with first prize. More debuts followed, including her San Francisco Opera debut, as Valencienne in The Merry Widow, and her Metropolitan Opera debut, in the New York premiere of Bolcom’s opera; a season later, she won plaudits as Teresa in the Met premiere of Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini. Mozart became a specialty: Zerlina in Don Giovanni (New York, Houston, Salzburg), Susanna in Le nozze di Figaro (Los Angeles, London), and Pamina in The Magic Flute (New York, Toronto). Her roles at the Canadian Opera Company range from Gluck’s Euridice to Debussy’s Mélisande to Poulenc’s Blanche in Dialogues des Carmélites; and away from Canada, she has shone as Monteverdi’s Poppea in Barcelona, Handel’s Romilda (Serse) in Dresden, and Janáček’s Vixen in New York, Florence, and the Saito Kinen Festival in Matsumoto, Japan.
But opera is only one page of the Bayrakdarian résumé. An ever-active concertizer, she’s appeared with the premier orchestras of New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, RAI Torino, Paris, London, Vienna, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal under the baton of such eminent conductors as Seiji Ozawa, James Conlon, David Zinman, Michael Tilson Thomas, Alan Gilbert, Nicholas McGegan, Christoph von Dohnányi, Christoph Eschenbach, Colin Davis, Sir Andrew Davis, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Mariss Jansons, Leonard Slatkin, James Levine, Anne Manson, Bramwell Tovey, Peter Oundjian and Richard Bradshaw.
Her versatility is also reflected in being the featured vocalist on the GRAMMY-award winning soundtrack of the blockbuster film The Two Towers from The Lord of The Rings trilogy and on the soundtrack of Atom Egoyan’s Ararat. A trance music collaboration with the electronica band Delerium garnered yet another GRAMMY nomination. She sings on the BBC-produced short film Holocaust: A Music Memorial Film from Auschwitz, as well as her Gemini-nominated film Long Journey Home, documenting her first visit to her ancestral homeland Armenia.
Bayrakdarian is the winner of four consecutive JUNO Awards for Best Classical Album. She holds an Honorary Doctorate from Wilfrid Laurier University, and an Honorary Fellowship from the Royal Conservatory of Music. Ms Bayrakdarian is on the Voice Faculty at the University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB).
Sinfonia in G Minor, Op. 5 No. 6
Johann Adolf Hasse
Although Hasse is largely forgotten, he enjoyed the status of the most celebrated composer of dramatic operas (some 70 in all) in both the German and Italian-speaking countries for several decades. He also found great success throughout Europe in oratorio, sacred vocal music, and instrumental composition. His set of six sinfonias for string orchestra and continuo was published in Paris in 1740. The final piece consists of a bustling opening movement, a gracefully flowing Andante, and a forceful Finale.
Queen of Armenia
Isabel Bayrakdarian has provided the following note:
For the past year, I’ve been doing extensive research/scholarly work on Baroque composers who have written operas about the Armenian King Tigran II. There were around 22 operas written about him, but most are lost. With lots of research, using my UCSB resources, and a few serendipitous connections, I have now gathered THREE operas—in entirety and in excerpts—by Vivaldi, Hasse, and Gluck, all called Il Tigrane and all based on the same libretto by Silvani. There are some wonderful arias/ensembles in there actually, but to give my project more focus, and more importantly, to make it fit me and my voice/temperament/etc., my project concentrates on the role of Cleopatra (no, not that Cleopatra). Cleopatra of Pontius (daughter of Mitridate) was the Queen consort of King Tigran. As an aside, when I was growing up and being taught about Armenian history in school, we learned about the great King Tigran of course, but typically historians omitted Cleopatra’s name and existence completely. Instead, they concentrated on the accomplishment of her husband, when in fact, she was instrumental in making him the greatest king in Armenian history. At any rate, my project The other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia or Cleopatra of Armenia, is ready to be performed.”
Dance of the Furies
Christoph Willibald von Gluck
Gluck, one of the great reformers in the history of opera, is known to modern-day audiences almost exclusively through Orpheus and Euridice, the earliest opera to retain a place in the standard repertoire. The original, Italian-language version (Orfeo ed Euridice) debuted in Vienna in 1762. A revised edition with French text (Orphée et Eurydice) premiered in Paris in 1774.
The plot retells the Greek myth of the minstrel Orpheus, who travels to the underworld in hopes of bringing his dead wife, Euridice, back with him. The sincerity of his enduring love and the beautiful music he plays on his lyre win over the rulers of the underworld. In breaking his vow not to look at Euridice during his return journey to earth, he risks losing her forever, until the god of love intercedes on their behalf. The vigorous, strident Dance of the Furies describes the terrifying underworld goddesses whose role is to punish wrongdoers.
Sinfonia in G Major, Chen G3—’the Weimar sinfonia’
Christoph Willibald von Gluck
Gluck composed a small number of purely instrumental pieces, including eight ballets. His twenty-or-so orchestral sinfonias resemble works by such contemporary composers as the sons of Johann Sebastian Bach, and Johann Adolf Hasse. Details of their dates and initial purposes are sketchy. They may have originated as overtures to lost early operas, or as concert symphonies. Some of them may not be authentically his work, but the Taiwanese musicologist Jen-Yen Chen, an expert on Gluck, has firmly attributed this Sinfonia in G Major to him. Employing the three-movement layout that was common both to the operatic overtures and the concert symphonies of the day, this work has acquired the nickname ‘Weimar’ after the German city where the only existing source material has survived. It is appealingly melodic and skillfully scored, with wind instruments adding much delightful detail to the texture.