Voice of the Sublime

asbarez
Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

Hasmik Papian
In the run-up to an extraordinary concert in Beirut, a conversation
with soprano Hasmik Papian

INTERVIEW BY SONA HAMALIAN

On April 12, Beirut audiences will have a rare opportunity to enjoy
the artistry of soprano Hasmik Papian, as she will appear in a major
concert at the Emile Lahoud Hall.

Papian will be accompanied by the Lebanese Philharmonic Orchestra, led
by celebrated conductor Harout Fazlian. The concert is organized
jointly by the Armenian General Benevolent Union and Hamazkayin
Educational and Cultural Society of Lebanon, with proceeds from the
event to benefit core programs of both organizations.

Hasmik Papian is widely recognized as one of the world's foremost
sopranos. Following her debut with the Armenian National Opera, she
signed on with the Opera of Bonn, Germany, in 1993. Her extraordinary
performances there quickly earned her critical acclaim, subsequently
catapulting her to international stardom.

In the past two decades, Papian has appeared at many of the world's
most prestigious music halls, including the Metropolitan Opera and
Carnegie Hall, San Francisco Opera, La Scala Milan, Liceu Barcelona,
Opéra Bastille, Salle Pleyel and Salle Gaveau Paris, London Wigmore
Hall, Vienna State Opera and Musikverein, Zurich Opera, Mariinsky
Theatre St. Petersburg, and the state operas of Munich, Stuttgart,
Hamburg, Dresden, and Berlin, among others.

The soprano has appeared next to notable singers such as Elena
Obraztsova, Grace Bumbry, Plácido Domingo, José Cura, Roberto Alagna,
Thomas Hampson, Renato Bruson, Leo Nucci, Sherill Milness, and,
Nikolai Ghiaurov, as well as with conductors such as James Levine,
Ricardo Muti, Georges Prêtre, and Valery Gergiev.

Papian's sublime virtuosity - noted equally for her vocal prowess,
striking technique, and powerful stage presence - has been manifested
through a broad repertoire ranging from Norma, Don Giovanni, William
Tell, La Traviata, Aida, and Tosca to The Flying Dutchman and The
Queen of Spades.

Papian has also performed the works of illustrious Armenian composers
such as Komitas Vardapet, Ganachian, Chukhajian, and Mansurian. In
2006 the Audite Musikproduktion label released Nvirum Komitasin
(Homage to Komitas), featuring Papian and pianist Vardan Mamikonian.

In addition to International praise, Papian has been honored with a
number of distinguished Armenian awards. She received the People's
Artist of Armenia Award; the Order of Saint Sahak and Saint Mesrop
from Catholicos Karekin II, for her accomplishments as a cultural
ambassador for Armenia; and the Order of Saint Mesrop Mashtots from
Catholicos Aram I.

SONA HAMALIAN: Can you describe your feelings as you prepare for your
forthcoming concert at the Emile Lahoud Hall?

HASMIK PAPIAN: I am very excited. It is a great honor for me.

S.H.: What will the concert program include?

H.P.: I am going to sing mainly arias from famous Italian operas. Of
course I will also include some Armenian pieces.

S.H.: You have performed in Lebanon before, notably at the Baalbeck
International Festival. How would you characterize Lebanese audiences?

H.P.: According to my experiences so far, Lebanese audiences are truly
exceptional. Concertgoers here are very demanding and also quite
knowledgeable. Take the great tradition of the Baalbeck International
Festival, where I have had the honor to sing a solo recital: so many
famous singers have performed there! So it is a challenge for me to
come back to Lebanon.

S.H.: You have been a resident of Vienna for quite some time, yet you
have said that you consider living away from the Armenian homeland as
something of a prolonged business trip. Today, when you perform in
diaspora communities such as Beirut, do you find that your sense of
kinship with Armenian audiences is similar to what you feel when
performing in Armenia?

H.P.: No, it is different. To sing in the Republic of Armenia is even
more challenging for me. Despite having lived and traveled abroad for
so many years, I still belong to Armenia. People there have such high
expectations when I perform there! No matter how long I have had a
successful international career, no one in Yerevan would be lenient if
even once my singing were not up to par with what people expect from
me.

S.H.: In this age of Facebook and Twitter, where do you see the role
of a highly contemplative art form such as opera? Do you feel that
opera, and classical music in general, still have considerable
relevance to our fast-paced culture?

H.P.: Classical music and opera will certainly continue to exist. They
are a counterpoint to the acceleration we are witnessing in our daily
life. I believe that the form of presentation will change - and I must
say that it has already changed a lot throughout the past 20 years.
Contemporary staging has become a standard in many opera theaters
worldwide. And I think that's a good thing, even if sometimes it makes
it more difficult for us singers.

S.H.: The fast rate of cultural change obviously presents challenges
to cultural structures in Armenian-diaspora communities as well. How
do you think organizations such as the AGBU and Hamazkayin can harness
the power of Armenian classical music to encourage cultural
engagement, especially among the youth?

H.P.: Of course there are many different possibilities. The main thing
in my eyes would be not to perpetuate a distorted perspective on our
cultural heritage, which is so rich and complex. We shouldn't regard
our classical music too much as folklore or try to transform it into
popular music. At first sight such trends might help promote our
classical heritage. But in the long run they will alienate our youth
from this precious treasure, instead of helping it thrive as a vibrant
and relevant component of our cultural vocabulary.

S.H.: Would you say there are at the moment sufficient cultural
exchanges between Armenia and the diaspora? Or would you like to see
increased collaboration and actual programs that would foster synergy?

H.P.: The most important thing is that people from the diaspora come
to Armenia - especially the young people. This will be of great
benefit for both sides. There has been a lot of cultural exchange
since the iron curtain came down. We should continue on this avenue,
which has been paved thanks to the support of AGBU, Hamazkayin, and
others.

S.H.: How does inspiration in Vienna differ from inspiration in Yerevan?

H.P.: Of course it's a great inspiration to stand on the stage of the
Vienna State Opera and sing the leading role there, with great
colleagues at your side and the Vienna Philharmonic playing for you in
the pit... But I try to come to Yerevan as often as possible. It is
always inspiring for me to come to my home country. Meeting with my
family and the many friends I have there means filling up the
batteries. As you quoted me before: I always have one foot in Armenia
and the other abroad. In a way, I have never left my country.

S.H.: What are some of your plans following your upcoming concert in Beirut?

H.P.: I have started studying a new part, which is a dream role for
every soprano in the world: Richard Wagner's Isolde. I still have some
time before giving my debut performance as Isolde in Germany, but it
is a very demanding part and I need to work on it thoroughly.