Isabel Bayrakdarian showers her luxuriant voice on Gusman Hall

By David Fleshler

The Armenian-Canadian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian brought to the University of Miami’s Gusman Hall a luxuriant soprano voice of a quality rarely heard on South Florida’s opera stages.

Although the performance Sunday began with a short set of Schubert songs, this was not a traditional lieder recital, and it’s a good bet that even vocal aficionados wouldn’t have known half the works on the program. And even in a music world that has become more international, Bayrakdarian’s range of languages was impressive, as she sang in Greek, Armenian, Spanish, Arabic, Yiddish and Aramaic, in addition to the usual German and Italian.

Bayrakdarian is not one of those sopranos you go to for showy high notes and vocal virtuosity, although there was plenty of that toward the end. Her creamy lyric soprano voice was made for long lines of melody, and this was displayed in song after song, in a recital that was hard to beat for sheer sonic pleasure. Technically, her voice was a precise instrument, with fine intonation and a tight vibrato that never lost the tonal center, except for a few high notes.

She performed with her husband Serouj Kradjian at the piano, as part of the Sunday Afternoons of Music Series.

Her technical precision, lush voice and sensitive phrasing were on display in the Schubert lieder and Bellini songs. And she brought a piquant and sensual quality to Ravel’s arrangement of six Greek folk songs. But the highlight of the recital were four Armenian folk songs recorded and arranged by Reverend Gomidas, an Armenian composer traumatized by the Turkish government’s 1915 campaign of genocide, who determined to travel Armenia and record the country’s musical heritage.

Bayrakdarian was born in Lebanon to Armenian parents and came to Canada as a teenager, graduating from the University of Toronto. Introducing these songs, she alluded to the genocide, telling the audience the songs came from villages that “do not exist anymore.” She sang Dear Mara, a song of mourning and grief, and an Armenian lullaby in tender, gentle tones. She brought a passionate but still polished tone to Children’s Prayer.  And her performance of an Armenian woman’s complaints about her mother in law came off with a light touch and wry wit.

Also fine were the performances of Spanish folk songs by Fernando Obradors and a series of tangos by various composers, as Bayrakdarian allowed a darker, smoky tone into her voice for these sultry, passionate songs.

Her stage presence was inviting and engaging. Her expressions and gestures were those of a singer who enjoyed sharing the music with an audience, rather than just a vocal technician running through her repertoire. Her husband expertly handled the often-difficult piano parts, and unlike many accompanists he played assertively enough to take center stage when the occasion called for it.

Applause was rapturous. She gave two encores, La Rosa Y el Sauce of Carlos Guastavino, and Tanti affetti in tal momento from Rossini’s La Donna del Lago, where she showed off vocal pyrotechnics, handling the runs and ornaments of Rossini’s florid coloratura work with accuracy and gusto.

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Mon Dec 21, 2009
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