Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian is turning into something of a scholarly sleuth. One hears stories of people digging through dusty archives and rediscovering lost or nearly forgotten musical masterpieces, and this image comes to mind when I hear about her most recent project, The Other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia, which she talks about with MCO Music Director Anne Manson in the video below.
Audiences will remember Isabel’s celebrated CD with Tafelmusik featuring music by Handel and others about Cleopatra of Egypt. Her most recent project, on the other hand, focuses on the lesser-known Cleopatra of Pontus, an ancient queen of Armenia. Isabel remarks that while this figure’s husband Tigranes is remembered and mythologized in Armenia as one of their greatest kings, Cleopatra herself is barely mentioned in the history books. This, despite the fact that Cleopatra played a crucial role in consolidating the empire Tigranes commanded. “It was as though the dynasty procreated by itself,” she quips in her conversation with Anne.
Isabel, a professor of music at University of California Santa Barbara as well as touring soloist, stumbled across the figure of Cleopatra of Pontus when working with a graduate student to digitize Scarlatti’s obscure score for Tigrane (a copy of which was in the possession of her university’s music library). After discovering that the figure appeared in no fewer than 22 operas, she resolved to bring the character back to life musically. The result is The Other Cleopatra: Queen of Armenia, a CD by Isabel featuring arias by Hasse, Gluck, and Vivaldi from some of these 22 operas. Isabel was to perform some of this repertoire at our now-suspended June concert at Westminster Church, but you can still enjoy this trove of hidden treasures by streaming the CD here and watching our conversation with her above.
Anne also had the chance to talk to Isabel about her experience walking the Camino de Santiago, the web of pilgrimage routes to Cathedral Santiago de Compostela that stretches from village to village, cathedral to cathedral, across Southern and Western Europe. For a few tourists the Camino approximates a scenic wine-tasting bender, broken up by afternoon constitutionals as a means of traveling from winery to winery and atoning for the many carbs consumed in the evening. For many others, the walk is a sincere expression of spiritual faith, connecting one to a tradition of pilgrimage thousands of years old – although we may note that the ecclesiastic significance of wine is even older, so we see no reason to be indifferent to the refreshing nectars of Spain’s wine country. (It’s not for nothing that a free wine fountain greets pilgrims at their final destination). In any case, as Isabel tells it, she was somewhat unsure what drew her to the Camino when she walked the longest route with her sister. The experience was, nevertheless, revelatory: transforming both her outlook and her music. She recounts the experience of her trip in the video above.
Classic 107’s biweekly broadcasts of MCO performances
The MCO is very pleased to work with our good friends at Classic 107 to deliver this initiative: on Sunday afternoons, beginning at 2PM, attend a radio concert broadcast of a classic MCO performance from the archives. Brought to you by The Winnipeg Foundation, we will continue the feature every second Sunday. Though we are not able to gather in person, we are able to gather on the radio airwaves for a physically-distanced concert. The next broadcast concert will be 2PM Sunday, 5 July on 107.1 FM
The MCO gratefully acknowledges support from the following: