Review: Opera News


Isabel Bayrakdarian: Troubadour & The Nightingale

by Joanne Sydney Lessner

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and her husband, composer and pianist Serouj Kradjian, deliver an outstanding collection of sinuous musical exotica courtesy of Ravel, eighteenth-century Armenian troubadour Sayat-Nova, and Kradjian himself. In addition to providing spicy arrangements for works by the other two, Kradjian composed Trobairitz Ysabella, a spectacular showpiece cycle for Bayrakdarian, inspired by the brief emergence of female troubadours (trobairitz) during the Crusades. The elusive Ysabella, whose identity has never been definitively established, was one among several prominent trobairitz whose voices flourished before being silenced by the Inquisition. Trobairitz Ysabella imagines her life in fragrant, playful tones, with soaring lines perfectly suited to Bayrakdarian’s flexible, caramel-colored soprano. Kradjian’s orchestral writing is simply gorgeous, with sumptuously insisting strings, serpentine clarinet solos, pixilated guitar figurations, and invigorating percussion patterns. After a playfully inviting overture, which suggests a hint of John Williams underneath its exotic colorations, the cycle opens with A Woman From Périgord. Singing in the Occitane language, Bayrakdarian moves from mourning a lover’s betrayal to an assertively joyful reclamation of her independence. From Jerusalem to Andalusia (I) builds to a stunning climax, with Bayrakdarian unleashing shimmering high notes, while in From Jerusalem to Andalusia (II) she is energized by a wholly feminine ferocity. Duel with Elias Cayrel, the only song to use Ysabella’s own text, allows Bayrakdarian to shift point of view between Ysabella and her former lover, whom she accuses of penning his paeans to her for profit, not love.

Kradjian employs equally evocative colors in his arrangement of Sayat-Nova’s Four Songs, each one a mesmerizing, multi-faceted gem. Bayrakdarian intones the melismatic lines with a lithe, delicate beauty as if she, too, is succumbing to their spell. Nazani is a beguiling seduction, while As Long as I’m Alive has a courtly, classical feel. Bayrakdarian taps into a keening edge to express both the song of The Nightingale and the pain of the poet who has lost her, while Kamancha is a hot-blooded ode to the string instrument favored by Sayat-Nova. Anne Manson leads the Manitoba Chamber Orchestra throughout with passion and vigor, but nowhere more so than in this rousing closer. Bayrakdarian’s approach to Ravel’s Kaddisch is simultaneously soulful and straightforward, and she sounds fresh and ingenuous in his Five Greek Songs, which she performs in the Greek translation, not Ravel’s original French. Kradjian’s arrangement gives predominance to low arco strings, which add an earthiness that complements the heartiness of the Greek language. Bayrakdarian closes the cycle with Tripatos, which Ravel added as a final song at the request of Armenian soprano Marguerite Babaian.