Soprano subdues, awes Beaver Creek audience
BEAVER CREEK – The immediate surprise emanated from the entire audience the minute Isabel Bayrakdarian took the stage.Wow. She’s thin. She’s beautiful. She’s not really what I expected … for an opera singer.Don’t ask me why some of us have this image emblazoned in our mental trivia that, when we think “soprano,” we think 300-pound, 60-year-old woman with false eyelashes. Or, maybe it’s just me.Surely that comment will elicit a slew of affronted feedback from half the local and online opera community. I hope not.
Before Bayrakdarian’s performance Tuesday evening at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek, I already knew that she didn’t fit this prototype.And maybe the surprise I sensed from the audience isn’t accurately rendered by my explanation. Maybe everyone was gasping and twittering because they too already knew that Bayrakdarian was young and beautiful, they just hadn’t expected her to be this beautiful. I can only speculate.The first thing I noticed when I interviewed Bayrakdarian before Tuesday’s performance was that her speaking voice alone was one of the loveliest I’d ever heard. Not that I expected one of the world’s most embraced sopranos to speak in a growl.The second thing I noticed was that this global icon, born in Lebanon and having relocated to Canada less than 15 years ago at the age of 15, had no arrogance or ego about her whatsoever. Somehow, she seemed as excited to talk to me as I was to talk to her. She was articulate, humble, witty and very friendly.
And when she told me how she’d gone through several minutes of sheer panic when she thought her luggage containing her gowns was lost in transit somewhere between the Toronto, Denver and Eagle County airports, she said, “When you see the show, you’ll understand why I was so worried.” I did indeed understand. She wore two different gowns during the course of Tuesday’s recital, the first, a Victorian-style burgundy with a lavender shawl that could have placed her in the center of the Metropolitan Opera (where she’s already been highly acclaimed), in the middle of a royal wedding or amidst somebody’s revered collection of valuable porcelain dolls. The second gown was a black satin V-neck with sheer sleeves and a half-tattered skirt, perfect for the “Cabaret” numbers which marked the last segment of her highly diverse, multi-lingual performance.The first numbers she sang were by Giacchino Rossini, Italian songs about a regatta race. She delivered them with such energy – her eyes going wide and brow furrowing at the dramatic intervals whose meanings only the Italian speakers of the audience were able to comprehend. The second segment moved on to Spanish with a series of numbers by Manuel de Falla.
The section of Armenian hymns, which Bayrakdarian said were responsible for landing her the part on the “Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers” soundtrack, were ethereal and resonating. She held each octave for several seconds without suffering a single heave of her chest. The second half of the performance featured a mix of French and German numbers, the last three of which hit octaves of such quaking power, they sent a ripple through the audience of uncomfortably retained applause. The clapping etiquette proved uncertain throughout the performance. When Bayrakdarian put a hand up to silence it early on in the recital, the unrequited urge to applaud vigorously after every piece, if not after every vocal burst in each number, lasted until the final piece following the encore, where Bayrakdarian donned castanets and her partner, pianist Serouj Kradjian, who had melted his fingers into the ivory impeccably on each preceding piece, stepped up the timing a few notches and both looked pleasantly drained as they held hands to take their final bow amidst a standing ovation.The audience, which numbered less than 500 – possibly one of the most intimate to which Bayrakdarian’s ever performed since winning the Metropolitan Opera seven years ago while simultaneously completing her honors degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Toronto – hopefully felt as honored as I did to have witnessed such a rare display. Bayrakdarian said herself that the repertoire was custom-made for the small audience and this piece of history, exactly as it elapsed on Tuesday, will never be repeated. Staff Writer Shauna Farnell can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 610, or email@example.com.Vail Colorado