Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian sign CDs after their brilliant performance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Wednesday.

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian sign CDs after their brilliant performance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre Wednesday.

Review: Opera singer/pianist are the cat’s meow

Soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian delight the audience at Wednesday's concert in Vernon.

The first encore, The Cat Duet, performed by soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian and husband, pianist/composer Serouj Kradjian, delighted the audience so much that they demanded  a second encore at the North Okanagan Community Concert Association’s Wednesday presentation at the Performing Arts Centre.

According to Bayrakdarian, this duet, usually sung by two sopranos, reflected the ups and downs of touring life for a husband and wife team. It was deliciously tongue-in-cheek and perfectly timed as was everything the couple performed, whether comic or tragic, solo or duo, with work by Franz Liszt, Hector Berlioz or Kradjian himself in a program that ran the gamut from classical to opera to folk songs and dances.

And The Cat Duet crowned it all. From his seat at the Steinway, Kradjian not only enhanced every perfect note that fell from his wife’s lips, but he interjected meows of his own. Once, the two even spat (cat like) at each other, before purring into Bayrakdarian’s final immaculate high note, “Meee…,” which proceeded to cascade down the scale into its “eeeooooooow,” bringing everyone to their feet again.

Vernon is blessed to have guest performers of this calibre.

Emotional integrity and acting finesse were balanced by the technical brilliance of these two Canadians of Armenian heritage.

When Kradjian played his composition Homage to Gomidas, which honoured the priest, pianist, choir director and singer who collected some 4,000 Armenian folk songs before he lost his mind as a result of witnessing the atrocities of the 1915-23 Armenian Genocide, his Armenian spirit shone through his performance. So did Bayrakdarian’s when she sang a mother’s farewell to her child who, like countless others, died as a result of the Armenians’ forcible eviction by Ottoman Imperialists.

But sadness was short lived with these two experts at managing the crowd. Apart from their outstanding musicality, they looked magnificent on stage: he in his designer shirts and she in stunning gowns, by Atelier Rosemary Umetsu, that drew gasps of appreciation.

Another moment of sadness, evoked by the death of Shakespeare’s Ophelia, scored originally by Berlioz for a female chorus, was offset by the wit and ebullience of Rossini’s Barber of Seville.

First came Kradjian’s piano solo transcribed from the celebrated baritone aria Largo al factotum, followed by Bayrakdarian’s faultless comedic rendition of Una voce poco fa.  She remembers this aria fondly, as The Barber of Seville marked her opera debut.  An understudy with Canadian Opera, she went on as Rosina on opening night and hasn’t looked back since.

Nor should she. Bayrakdarian is engaged to her fingertips in everything she sings and her command of the audience is total, whether with personal stories such as that of her three-year-old son’s response to her  Armenian lullaby (He suggests the key she should sing it in!) or the exquisite love songs she added to the program, “begging our indulgence.”

Judging from their response Wednesday evening, Vernon audiences would “indulge” Bayrakdarian and Kradjian any time they wish to return.

–– Christine Pilgrim is a freelance writer who reviews North Okanagan Community Concert Association presentations for The Morning Star.