Shauna Farnell

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December 27, 2004
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World-renown soprano set to melt hearts

BEAVER CREEK "-What do biomedical engineering and "The Lord of the Rings" have in common? Isabel Bayrakdarian has played a big part in both. And now, Bayrakdarian, who is arguably the most acclaimed soprano in the world, is in town and will deliver a very exclusive performance tonight at the Vilar Center of the Arts in Beaver Creek.

Bayrakdarian, who has received numerous prestigious awards, including the Placido Domingo Operalia and the Queen Elizabeth II Golden Jubilee medal, was a little worried when she arrived at Eagle County Airport on Sunday and her luggage was lost.

"I was not in the best of moods," she said, laughing, just before a rehearsal at the Vilar. "All I could think was, 'my gowns are in there!'"

Luckily, her luggage was recovered, so Bayrakdarian's performance tonight should transpire without a hitch, especially considering she has made the responsible decision to wait to ski until after her performance.

"I could be on the slopes," she said. "But, it's not responsible. It's out of respect for the organization. At the last minute, I don't want to go out and, God forbid, break an ankle."

Up close and personal

It is rare for the singer to appear on a stage as intimate as that at the Vilar Center, her usual venues being the likes of the Paris and Metropolitan Opera. However, Bayrakdarian has designed a classical performance specifically suited to the local setting. And, traditional holiday fare is not in the line up.

Tonight's performance is wedged right between two celebrations for Bayrakdarian. On Christmas, she was able to spend the holiday with her family in Toronto, Canada, and will return home later this week to spend New Year's in the same fashion. Throughout the years, the holidays spent making long-distance calls to loved ones while on the road are something Bayrakdarian said she has done herself the favor of not counting.

"This comes in at a perfect time for me," she said of her Beaver Creek Performance. "Right after New Year's, I'm singing (opera) in Chicago. Tonight, it's a nice break from the constant routine. The repertoire of this recital is exciting. We've all heard enough of the Christmas carols. It's nice to be in the spirit of the holidays without being bombarded by the same numbers over and over again. So, I created this repertoire. It would not have worked for any other time.

It's custom-made for the audience here. I personally love the intimacy of a piano and voice recital. It's a rarity to have such an intimate performance space of 530 or 560 seats. You don't usually get jewels like this in North America. The smallest you have is 1,500.

In a smaller space, you can touch each and every person in the audience."

Bayrakdarian will be performing with her new husband, concert pianist Serouj Kradjian, who is himself an acclaimed musician. The two will deliver an international ensemble of pieces originating from Italy, Spain, Armenia and France.

Year in review

When Bayrakdarian heads home for New Year's, in addition to the meaningful element of having her family around to celebrate with, 2004 marks one of the most significant years in Bayrakdarian's young life.

Although Bayrakdarian's list of achievements have included an honors degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto, an appearance on the Grammy-winning soundtrack of "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers," Bayrakdarian notes the doctorate she received this year and the Juno Award she won after the release of "Azulao" as her most remarkable accomplishments to date.

"In my opinion, competitions are things which, you have to do them. If you win them, it's great. It's an indication that a specific number of experts in your field think you deserve to win," she said. "When my CD won the Juno Award, the equivalent of an artist Grammy, I went, 'Woah...' When I was given an honorary doctorate and I wasn't even 30 years old yet, it kind of leaves you humbled. It can have that effect on certain people. You can get too proud. Your ego can be bigger than the sun. Instead of making me rest on my laurels, it made me strive to keep it up. I don't know if I'm the best person to come to for advice on how to make it in this business. My (success) was so different. It was completely guided by heart and God. 2004 is hard to compare to. And the year isn't finished yet."

With her mounting success in the world of opera and classical music and her growing base of devout fans, Bayrakdarian said she's never received so much fan mail as after the release of "Lord of the Rings."

On 'Lord of the Rings'

Bayrakdarian was a J.R. Tolkien fan before she was asked to sing for 2002's "Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers."

"I had read the books," she said.

The soundtrack recording took place in John Lennon's studio, which, for Bayrakdarian, was an experience in and of itself.

"That is part of my life, when I look back, it brings a huge grin to my face," she said. "I recorded in the studios, exactly where John Lennon stood. They left everything the way it was from the '60s. I was able to sing to the movie as it played. Getting to see the footage, to see what Golem looks like before the high tech additions, it's another one of the perks of this job that makes it not feel like a job."

Bayrakdarian is too humble to admit that her appearance on the soundtrack may have accounted for introducing a whole new audience to classical music and opera, but she said the fan mail poured in like water after the film's release.

"I probably get more fan mail from that than I do from the Opera

people," she said. "It's amazing, the number of people this movie's touched. I wish opera had that effect. I wish classical music had that effect."

She is reluctant to admit that these genres elicit a more refined audience than those drawn by blockbuster films.

"To say 'refined' makes it sound elitist," she said. "It's like, for example, if you're used to eating pizza or pasta. If someone comes to you with Indian food, it's just different. You embrace the fact that it's different and you appreciate the flavors and consider the different part of life. I myself listen to jazz all the time. Or, pop music in the car when I'm driving. It's an important thing to have as much variety and change as possible."

From pace maker to heart stopper

Speaking of change, Bayrakdarian's career path took a very abrupt turn when she beganto be recognized for her vocal talents while pursuing her degree in biomedical engineering. Not a quiter at heart, Bayrakdarian, for all it was worth, still managed to complete her degree in 1997 with honors.

"When I won the Metropolitan Opera, I was in the middle of writing a big thesis," she said. "I had to finish it. All the tears, all the effort, all the blood would have been a waste. What can I do with it now? I can recommend a pace maker. But, I'd rather melt hearts with voice."

Although melting hearts is now her field of expertise, Bayrakdarian doesn't regard her career as "work." Even though she could be skiing rather than staying healthy for tonight's performance, she sees her obligations in an unusual light.

"We as musicians have a different lifestyle," she said. "Some may call it dysfunctional. It's not ordinary. But, our lives are vacation. Our careers, they don't feel like jobs."

Bayrakdarian learned to ski at Whistler, B.C., and says she hasn't been on the slopes for two years. Hopefully that will change after tonight's performance.

"I love the quiet you always get when you ski," she said. "Sometimes, as musicians, we have the music in our heads for hours on end. The clean, fresh air ... the stillness is a nice change to the music in my head."

So, is it still vacation for Bayrakdarian when she looks out her hotel window at the slopes at Beaver Creek when she has to rush off to a rehearsal?

"Today, I'm not working," she said, staying true to her vacation mentality. "This is just the responsible part of my idle time."

Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at (970) 949-0555, ext. 610, or sfarnell@vaildaily.com.

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The VailDaily Updated Dec 27, 2004 07:35PM Published Dec 27, 2004 07:35PM Copyright 2004 The VailDaily. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.