Her voice has swelled inside the world’s great opera halls, risen above symphonies, and even accompanied a film about Hobbits hunting down a ring in Middle Earth.
There’s something about the voice of Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian that haunts.
Even those not attuned to the world of opera have heard that voice –– whether it was on the Howard Shore-produced Evenstar on the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers soundtrack, or accompanying Vancouver trance band Delerium on their 2007 Grammy nominated dance remix Angelicus.
Her voice has also been heard throughout the B.C. Interior –– via recording –– when Ballet Kelowna performed to her music a few years back.
That’s all about to change when local audiences will finally be able to see the woman behind the voice when Bayrakdarian performs at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Wednesday as part of a 12-date tour of B.C. and the Yukon.
A special presentation of the North Okanagan Community Concert Association, the concert is a first to bring an opera singer of this stature to town since tenor Ben Heppner graced the stage in 2007.
It holds even more significance as Bayrakdarian will be accompanied by her partner in music and life, Serouj Kradjian, an acclaimed pianist and composer in his own right. Together the duo has performed throughout Canada and the U.S., including New York’s Carnegie Hall.
“I’m very fortunate to have a solo pianist accompanying me as opposed to just an accompanist,” said Bayrakdarian, who just returned to Canada from performing in London’s famed Wigmore Hall. “It’s a very rare chance that we singers get. Especially him being my husband, I know that throughout the entire evening, he’ll always be there for me.”
Born in Lebanon to Armenian parents, and later immigrating to Toronto as a teenager, Bayrakdarian didn’t really pursue a professional music career until after she graduated from the University of Toronto, with a degree in engineering science, in 1997.
It was when she won first prize in the 2000 Operalia competition, founded by Plácido Domingo, that she burst onto the international scene.
Since then, she has won four Juno awards for her recordings and has performed in many of the world’s major opera houses in many of opera’s greatest roles, more recently as the title character in Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen with the New York Philharmonic.
Also the mother to a young son, Bayrakdarian says it took her a long time to find her “voice.” In fact, she says she couldn’t sing a note when it came to performing liturgical songs in her family’s church choir. Now she sings them all the time when it comes to calming her child.
“My mom was the choir director, my sister and siblings all sang in the church choir, and I was the youngest, so automatically I had to follow them to church even though I couldn’t sing a note,” she said. “It’s such an integral part of who I am and I still find a lot of peace in singing this music. I sing it as an alternative to traditional lullabies for my son, after I exhaust my three or four lullabies. If he’s still antsy and wants more, I switch to this sacred music because he’ll never be able to hear them in his daily life.
“These harmonics are so unusual, (they) are very eastern, and when your ear is exposed to these different harmonies at an early age, your brain opens to so much when you’re growing up. You can appreciate music from so many genres and be accepting towards them.”
Bayrakdarian made that discovery recently when she went on an emotional journey back to her ancestral home of Armenia. The trip was featured in the documentary, A Long Journey Home, which recently aired on the Knowledge Network here in B.C.
In the film she performed traditional Armenian music against an ancient and mystical backdrop. The highlight of her visit was her debut with the Armenian Philharmonic, where she enthralled audiences with the purity of her voice.
In the midst of all her travels, Bayrakdarian also manages to find the time to host her own TV show, Opera on Treasure, which airs on one of the entertainment channels on Rogers.
The show, she says, is another way to share her passion, and so she makes time in her busy schedule to fit it in.
“Anybody can identify with this: when you love something, you make time for it, you just know what’s important to you and what’s not,” she said. “It might sound selfish, but actually it’s essential to each of our existence, not to be distracted by noise, so of course I am able to fit that in as well as many other things because I love it. And trust me, things that I don’t love that I have to do, it’s like pulling a tooth –– it never gets done. But the things that I love and do with joy and pleasure, they just sort themselves out, like when you’re driving and all the lights turn green, it opens up and you just zoom ahead.”
Bayrakdarian and Kradjian will be zooming through the Okanagan next week, with a sold-out performance in Kelowna Monday. Tickets for their concert at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., are still available.
Regular seats cost $35, $17.50 for students under 18, and $30 for NOCCA subscribers. They are available at the Ticket Seller box office. Call 250-549-7469, or order online at www.ticketseller.ca.