An eclectic program

LAWRENCE BUDMEN is impressed by Canadian/Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian

Kurt Weill (1900-1950) was one of the most original creative voices of the twentieth century. After studies with Humperdinck (composer of the opera Hansel and Gretel) and Busoni, Weill fell under the spell of Igor Stravinsky -- a relationship that bore fruit in several neo-classical works (especially the audacious First Symphony). He would experiment with Schoenberg-style atonalism before embracing tonal and populist elements (especially American jazz). In a series of history-making operatic collaborations with the playwright Berthold Brecht (Threepenny Opera, Happy End, Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny), Weill would redefine music theater. These Weill-Brecht scores combine scathing socio-political satire with a musical vocabulary that embraces both modernist and vernacular elements. After fleeing Nazi Germany, Weill settled first in Paris and later in New York, where his music wholeheartedly embraced the worlds of Broadway, Hollywood, and Tin Pan Alley. Weill's French period (1933-35) is the least familiar chapter in the composer's creative life. An enticing sampling of music from the composer's Paris years formed the triumphant conclusion of a remarkable concert by the marvelous Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian on 21 March 2004 at the University of Miami Gusman Concert Hall -- a presentation by the Sunday Afternoons of Music concert series.

Weill's 1934 operetta Marie Galante (to a libretto by Jacques Deval) was a huge success. The waltz song 'J'Attends un Navire' ('I'm Waiting for A Ship') later became an anthem of the French Resistance fighters. Ms. Bayrakdarian sang this entrancing bon-bon with a wistful sadness and arching inner turmoil that held the audience transfixed. She captured the bitter humor of 'Le Roi d'Aquitaine' ('The King of Aquitaine') also from Marie Galante -- a gem of a score that deserves revival. With her rich, evenly produced voice and flair for drama, Ms. Bayrakdarian encapsulated the heartbreak of 'Je ne t'aime Pas' ('I Don't Love you') -- one of the songs Weill wrote for the French chanteuse Madeleine Grey (who introduced Joseph Canteloube's popular Songs of the Auvergne). The beguiling 'Youkali' from a 1935 song cycle (written for Grey) was one of Weill's last French scores. At the première, the French composer-conductor André Messager organized a demonstration against Weill. After hearing pro-Nazi slogans shouted in the concert hall, Weill (along with his wife the actress-singer Lotte Lenya and his friend the conductor Maurice Abravanel) headed for New York and success on Broadway. The way Ms. Bayrakdarian's beautiful voice embraced the touching, poignant melody of 'Youkali' was sheer magic!

Bayrakdarian is one of the opera world's great new stars. She possesses a voice of angelic purity. Her sound is effortlessly produced. Her radiant tonal beauty, musicality, and perfect intonation are what vocal legends are all about! Ms. Bayrakdarian's beauty, subtly natural gestures, and sheer magnetism held the audience in the palm of her hand. One could hear a pin drop -- so mesmerized was the audience by her dramatic intensity and vocal glamour. Ms. Bayrakdarian is something of a baroque opera specialist and two Vivaldi arias amply demonstrated why. Her voice soared in the stately beauty of 'Sposa son Disprezzata' from Il Bajazet. Bayrakdarian seemed to relish the fiercely difficult coloratura roulades of 'Agitata da Due Venti' from Griselda (to a text by the famed playwright Carlo Goldoni). Her feverish dramatic utterance and pin point coloratura accuracy were simply dazzling! Truly great singing!

In a group of Rossini songs (from the composer's late Serate Musicale) Bayrakdarian was altogether irresistible. Her beautiful cantabile singing of 'La Promessa' was all sweetness and lightness. The Latin rhythms of 'Canzonetta Spangnuola' were accented with flair and joy. (How wonderful to hear a light soprano voice in this confection rather than the usual heavy mezzo.) Her playful way with the song was altogether beguiling. Her rapid fire manner with 'La Danza' was the essence of vocal fireworks. Her beautiful tonal shadings made the 1912 cycle Coleccion de Tonadillas Escritas en Estilo Antiguo by Enrique Granados a musical delight. Her meltingly beautiful singing and exquisite high tones in 'Las Quejos o La Maja y El Ruisenor' from the opera Goyescas produced that rare concert event -- a moment of musical revelation. Her voice truly glistened in this gorgeous music. (Lucretia Bori -- the opera's original interpreter -- could not have sung the aria with greater beauty.) What glorious vocal lava!

Bayrakdarian's exquisite singing of five Tchaikovsky songs was unforgettable. The vocal amber and keenly projected drama of 'Sred' Shumnnovo Bala' ('Amid the Din of the Ball') was magnificent. She brought wit and fun to 'Kakushka' ('The Cuckoo') and what perfect singing! The beautiful lyricism and glowing warmth of Bayrakdarian's manner in 'Den li Tsarit' ('Whether Day Dawns') were pure magic! All of the haunting melancholy and tragedy of Tchaikovsky's music lived anew in her glorious singing! What a Tatiana in Eugene Onegin or Lisa in Pique Dame she will make!

As an encore Ms. Bayrakdarian offered an aria from Rossini's Elisazbeta de Inglaterra (which bears more than a small resemblance to 'Una Voce Poco Fa' from The Barber of Seville -- Rossini as ever the skillful recycler). The brilliant coloratura, effortless vocal dynamics, and beautifully rounded tone brought Joan Sutherland to mind. Tremendous bel canto vocalism! The Canadian-Armenian pianist Serouj Kradjian provided Ms. Bayrakdarian with wonderfully subtle, exquisitely shaded support. A perfect collaboration!

Ms. Bayrakdarian's eclectic, audacious program was a model of intelligent music making. With her magnificent vocal gifts and theatrical flair, she is already a great singer! Isabel Bayrakdarian is an artist in the grand vocal tradition of Ponselle, Callas, Sutherland, and Caballé!

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