Carmen À La Arménienne



BY TINA SOULAHIAN

We’ve all heard of the talented Elie Berberian and Arminè Kassabian’s majestic voice, but in an unprecedented set of events, they will be performing together as the leads in “La Tragédie de Carmen,” adapted from Bizet’s Carmen by Peter Brook and presented by McGill University’s Schulich School of Music.

Both students at McGill’s Schulich School of Music, Elie (Tenor) is on a five-year full scholarship (something he’s very grateful for) and Arminè (Mezzo Soprano) is currently in the process of completing her Artist Diploma and has always dreamed of performing in Carmen. This will be their first performance together and one that is expected to be over the top. Elie will be playing the lead tenor role, Don José, the Corporal of Dragoons, and Arminè the main role, Carmen.

According to the Director of Opera Studies at McGill McGill University’s Schulich School of Music, Patrick Hansen, Elie and Arminè were chosen as the leads in Carmen because they made such a great duo. “Opera McGill auditions happen at the start of the fall semester, so Elie and Arminè auditioned for me then – along with over 50 other students. The operas we were casting were Handel’s “Agrippina,” Stravinsky’s “The Rake’s Progress,” Bernstein’s “Trouble in Tahiti,” Purcell’s “Dido and Aeneas,” as well “La Tragédie de Carmen.” I felt that Elie and Arminè both were perfect for the roles of Don José and Carmen and that they’d make a good pairing vocally. François Racine, the stage director, agreed with me and that’s how they were cast.”

In turn, the guest stage director of the Schulich School of Music Opera Faculty and a guest professor for the Opera Studio of Mcgill University since 2008, François Racine, noted, “I believe that Elie and Arminè will offer the public a touching and remarkable performance. They both have beautiful voices, strong personalities and charisma. So, the audience will be privy to a very special moment, even if the concert is an educational exercise.”

Elie and Arminè are also very thrilled to be the leads because of the honor they are bringing to the Armenian community.  

Arminè, who has a Masters degree in vocal interpretation and a bachelor’s degree in vocal performance with outstanding achievement and Italian Studies from McGill University, described her initial reaction as, “Wow! I was so proud!  I knew that with the tremendous talents we both have, it would turn out to be an amazing show and a wonderful opportunity for us to honour our Armenian community and culture. We are both proud Armenians and honour music with passion and vocal beauty. It is a great pleasure for us to honour the Armenian musical culture.”

Elie, who recently released his third CD, expressed similar feelings. “This is an indescribable feeling. Here’s the main question that we should ask ourselves. What are the odds that two Armenian artists outside Armenia would play the main characters in  Carmen or any other opera? It’s like winning a lottery! Only in this case, the judges chose the most qualified artists to perform this beautiful but yet hard opera. I would also like to congratulate Arminè Kassabian for the hard work and effort on her behalf to make this a double pride and a double victory.”

Their talent is undisputed and their future expected to be a bright one, especially by the Armenian community, their peers, colleagues and the staff at McGill. As their stage director, Mr. Racine, who was named Artist of the Year, by the Seattle Opera Company in 2009, said: “I believe that these two students have great potential. They both have remarkable voices that will allow them to be noticed on the operatic stage.”

Accordingly, Mr. Hansen, who is also a vocal coach, stage director, conductor, and acting teacher at McGill, sums up Elie’s and Arminè’s performance as both of them having a “passion to sing their best!”

Elie, who was first discovered at the age ten and dubbed the “Miracle Child” for his unbelievable voice and in 2004, was named “Best discovered talent” by a Lebanese radio station, and described was first inspired him to become an opera singer.

“Opera is one of the finest and most elegant arts in the world . To the listener it’s a unique cultural experience but things totally change when it comes to being an opera singer.  Being one of the hardest professions in the world, opera singers require discipline, vocal technique, acting skills, mastering to sing in different languages and last but not least, having guardian angels like, in my case, Prof. Stefano Algieri (my voice teacher). For all this to happen, you need an initial spark! My inspiration was and still is Luciano Pavarotti.”

Arminè, who is currently also studying with Aline Kutan and Thérèse Sevadjian and coaching with Olivier Godin, also fell in love with music at a very young age.

“Ever since I was young, music was a big part of my life. I started dancing ballet at the age of three and started piano at the age of six. For a period of 10 years, I played the piano and received my grade 8 Conservatory. I always enjoyed singing, and it was at the age of 12, when I participated in a talent show that I started to love it more and began singing lessons. I was accepted in the vocal concentration at the De la Salle High School of Art in Ottawa and that is when I was first introduced to classical music and realized the passion I had for it. I loved performing operas and singing to a full audience. My strength and charisma as a performer was enormous. I had much sensitivity and emotions toward my singing and loved every moment of giving and showing my love for it.”

The concert will take place on March 26 at 7:30pm at the Strathcona Music Building, Pollack Hall, 555 Sherbrooke Street West and another presentation will take place on March 28 at 2pm. Tickets are only $17 ($12 for students/seniors). The box office is open Monday to Friday from noon to 6pm or can be purchased at the door prior to the concert. Tickets can also be purchased over the phone during box office hours at 514-398-4547 or at Admission outlets.  

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