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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.

Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Photo: Lindsay Lozon, hair and make-up: David Goveia
Canadian-Armenian soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. Photo: Lindsay Lozon, hair and make-up: David Goveia

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!

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Copyright © 3 April 2004 Lawrence Budmen, Miami Beach, USA


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