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Volume 13 - Issue 8 - May 2008

Includes the 2008 Canary Pages

FEATURE"8xtra air

FEATURE"8xtra air 1111der your wings"ISABEL BAYRAKDARIANInterview with Pamela MarglesIn 1999, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian made aremarkable debut with the Canadian OperaCompany when Richard Bradshaw, in a last minuteswitch, put her on stage for the opening night ofBarber of Seville. Her Rosina was already fullyshaped, yet she had never done a leading role in anopera before. It was apparent that this young singerhad it all-a lovely expressive voice, strongtechnique, striking beauty, and that most intangibleyet precious quality-personality.Since then she has sung leading roles in majoropera houses throughout the world. Toronto audienceshave been able to hear her in concerts at theCBC's Glenn Gould Studio, many of which havebeen recorded, along with appearances with Operain Concert, Tafelmusik, and Amici. For me, one ofher most memorable concerts was a benefit for heralma mater, the University of Toronto, with herhusband and frequent musical partner, pianist SeroujKradjian, accompanying her. It was in 2005 at Convocation Hall,where they were raising money to restore the organ. One of her encoreswas the Mozart Alleluia, which she introduced by saying thatshe had previously sung it in Convocation Hall at her graduation ceremonynine years earlier. She had graduated in biomedical engineering,not music, which surely makes her the only major opera singer tobe trained as an engineer.Like one of her mentors, Placido Domingo, she has an insatiableappetite for new roles, and an ongoing curiosity about all aspects ofthe opera she is singing. In this she is helped by the fact that shespeaks seven languages-Armenian, English, Arabic, French, Spanish,Italian and German. Last fall COC audiences were treated towhat has become Bayrakdarian 's signature role, Susanna in Mozart'sMarriage of Figaro. She was seven months pregnant, whichadded an unusual twist to the plot. She is back with the COC thismonth to sing Debussy's Pelleas and Melisande, so I met with herduring rehearsals last month at the Canadian Opera Company.When you sang Rosina here in Barber of Seville nine years ago, youappeared to have arrived on stage for your debut in a leading rolefully formed-the acting, the singing, and the stage presence.One family member who had never seen me perform opera, becauseI hadn't done any , said, "But you were Isabel on stage-that's exactlyhow mischievous you are. Your reactions, your facial expressions,they were exactly what you do in normal life."How did you approach a character like that?Rosina is fun because the character is bottled sunshine. But still, likeSusanna, she is very smart. Characters like that feel very close. Youcan find so many traits in the character within yourself that it wasvery easy for me to portray her on stage. You don't need to act, youdon't need to think. You can take what the director gives you,mould it, and give back something that is a combination of theirconcept of the staging, and your own characterization of the role.The acting, did it just come out of the singing for you?I've never gone to school to study acting. I guess my motivationback then was-what wouldn't I want to see on stage, and thendon't do that! As an audience member I could define what I didn'tlike seeing, then make sure not to do it when I was on stage. RichardBradshaw gave me this fantastic opportunity, and you really don'tknow what you're capable of until somebody gives you a challengeand you try to meet it.Isabel Bayrakdarian in the 1999 Canadian Opera Company production ofBarber of Seville, withCanadian baritone Russell Braun as Figaro. Bayrakdarian has since sung frequently with Braun,most recently in the Marriage of Figaro at the COC last fall. They are together again on stagefor this month's COC production of Pelleas and Melisande at the Four Seasons Centre.It's remarkable that he gave you the opening night and all those extraperformances when you had never even sung a full-length role on stage.He believed in me. He gave me my first operatic chance. I alwayshave attributed this to him and I always will. On top of that, hebelieved I could handle the pressure of opening night. I was especiallyfortunate because he was in the pit conducting that show.When you know that somebody has faith in you, you can eithercollapse from the pressure, or you can say "I want to prove that hisdecision was right."I am always thankful for the many, many other opportunities hegave me. Without these, how difficult my entry into the operaticworld would have been! With my background as an engineer, Ihadn't taken the standard path to an operatic career. He didn't care.He just said, "Okay, this is a talent, in my opinion. I should justgive it the opportunity."Richard Bradshaw always said Pelleas and Melisande was his favouriteopera. This production was a dream of his, and he wasslated to conduct. ls it strange doing it here without him?I am still in denial about his leaving us so quickly. It was especiallydifficult the very first day of rehearsals, when all of us were there.He had always talked about how much he loved this opera and howmuch he was really looking forward to doing it with us.His presence is sorely missed here in so many ways. He wouldpop into rehearsals here in Jackman Hall and create this nervousexcitement in all of us. You wanted to give the best for him. He hadthat ability of making you want to achieve more, and aim for higherand better standards. Through his own excitement, his expectationsbrought out a lot of good qualities in those who choose to respondto them positively. It could be nerve-racking to have the generaldirector of the opera company coming in to rehearsals, but you realizedyou were here because he believed in you.I have never done the role of Melisande before. Since it was hisfavorite opera, I was very much looking forward to him shaping it.Fortunately, I must say, we have now a very good group of peoplein every possible way, from the directorial to the musical team. Theconductor, Jan Latham-Koenig, is wonderful. He's done this operaso many times and he is so supportive that we are learning so much.Richard loved what he did , and his joy in the music was infectious.I knew it from just watching him in orchestra rehearsals. He wouldgalvanize the entire orchestra with his tempi , his remarks, and hisanecdotes.Anecdotes?8 WWW. THEWHOLENOTE.COM MAY 1 - JUNE 7 2008

He was always very funny. He would tell us risque but true-life storiesabout other singers, directors and conductors which other peopleprobably would have been a bit hesitant to tell, in case they reflectedin a certain way on them. But he didn't care what people thought. Hewas also one of the very few people who are able to do music but alsohave a very sharp business sense.It's tangible, his lack of presence here. It's very obvious. Inmany ways, I think it's a testament to how much he did, how muchhe planted in terms of acorns that you plant, and they become oaks.I feel in many ways that if this beautiful living organization is an oakright now, it's because a wonderful seed was planted. It's just thatwe miss him. I miss him.I really have been very fortunate with the people around me whenI entered this business. I call them my guardian angels. Richard wasone of them. He really was a guardian angel to the very end.Who were some of the others?Marilyn Horne, definitely. Bill Mason, the general director of theLyric Opera of Chicago, who believed in me and took me up toanother level. Placido Domingo, who gave me many opportunities.These people come into your lives. Some stay long, others don'tstay as long, but what they do, consciously or not, is provide thisextra air under your wings to let you fly just a bit higher. Thenyounever know-sometimes you are that person to another singer.What about other people in Toronto who were close to you early inyour career, like Stuart Hamilton?He still is. I coached Melisande with him, of course-it's his favouriteopera also. You'd be crazy not to coach this opera with him.He would point out themes and imagery that otherwise I would nothave even noticed. Having these wonderful undertones in your mindcolours your singing and makes you think about a phrase very differently.You seem to thrive on strong operatic characters like Susanna,Rosina, and Melisande. Would you do a more passive character likeGilda?I've never done that role, but I don't like portraying victims, unlessthe director finds a core of strength. It can have credibility if done acertain way. But Gilda definitely is a victim.What roles are you looking at?This has been a great year, with so many new roles. I just did myfirst Norina in Don Pasquale with Opera Colorado, and it was atrial by fire. I had a baby in December, and this was in January.Post-baby, singing was the last thing on my mind. Sleep was what Icraved. It's hard when you're still not yourself. But it was a greatsuccess.What's coming next is Cunning Little Vixen in Japan. I understudiedthis role here at the COC when I was an ensemble member11 years ago. I always tell young artists to cover any role they canget, because ultimately it will always come in handy. Later I'm doingPoppea in Barcelona, then Fiordiligi, so a lot of new roles.In the documentary film of your first trip to Armenia, A Long JourneyHome, you say, "It's a home I didn 't know I had". What doyou mean by that?Armenia is my spiritual home. It is the essential link to my past,since I am 100 % Armenian. We were having a conversation here theother day, and one of the singers said, "I can trace my ancestorsback to when they came to Canada in the 18th century." There wasthis pain in me because even though Armenia is a four thousandyear-oldcivilization, my entire heritage has been erased because ofthe genocide. It is very difficult because we can't know our historybeyond 1915. So in many ways, I do feel homeless.Your family came Toronto from Lebanon when you were ateenager. Do you plan to stay here?Having traveled all over the world, I have consciously made the decisionto make Toronto my home. You go to places and say, "Wouldn'tit be great to live here! " but then you say no. Toronto is the place Icall home - it is a conscious decision now. We've bought a home!Your mother, who is a choir director and a singer here in Toronto,GREAT CHAMBER MUSIC DOWNTOWNST.LAWRENCEQUARTETalways sensationalDvorak, Hindemith,BeethovenThursday May 1at8 pmSUBSCRIPTIONSFOR THE 2008-09 SEASONFull season 16 concerts7,68 string quartets9,35 pianists0,53 Discovery young artists3 CONTEMPORARY CLASSICSprogrammes,Please call 416-366-7723toro ntdartsbo u nci IA.n s,'""s l&nq11>bodroJ1heC,1fol To,on10~­TOlIDNWiwww.music-toronto.comBie, Canada Council Consell des Arts© for lhe Arts du CanadaJ)A_ ONTARIO ARTS COUNCILJI-I\ CONSEIL DES ARTS l:l: L'ONTARIOatJane Mallett TheatreSt. LAWREI\ICE CENTRE ~sr ARTS416-366-7723 • 1-800-708-6754order online at www .stlc.comCONTINUES ON PAGE 10M AY 1 - ] UNE 7 2008 WWW.THEWHOLENOTE.COM 9

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