By Vazken Haroutunian
AGBU Alex Manoogian Center in Pasadena–California has seen its share of performances–from Armenian folk music–to theatrical presentations–and even the obligatory poetry recital. But the rustic walls of the converted church hall weren’t expecting to be shaken as hard as they did on Saturday–November 13 during the performance of operatic tenor Levon Hasserjian. Although a powerful voice in its early stages of maturation–it wasn’t Maestro Levon’s performances of Verdi or Schubert that caused the shaking–but the thunderous applause and standing ovations from the dual encores.
Disco’s dead. Rock n’ Roll is on life support–but Opera is back with a vengeance. Over 200 packed the portion of the auditorium-church hall to hear the young Hasserjian belt out aria after aria and throw in the occasional Armenian patriotic favorite to bring down the house. Individuals who missed this concert missed a performance by a young tenor who has a bright future and the personality and swagger to match. Levon Hasserjian ("Uncle Leo" to his closest confidants) was born in Antelias–Lebanon–where he began his study of music at the Melkonian Educational Institute–under the guidance of Maestro Sebouh Markarian. He later spent three years at the Lebanese Music Conservatory–where he trained with Professor Garo Jaderian. Having performed in Lebanon and Cyprus as the principal soloist with the AGBU choir and the Holy See of Cilicia’s Shnorhali Choir–Hasserjian is currently studying voice with Kathleen Darragh and coaching under Dan Bridston and Robin Reed.
That’s the background on his musical training and history but there’s more to this stout–proud young man. On stage in his tuxedo and hair tied back in a pony tail–reminiscent of the style worn by Italian men in Rome ogling the women on the Spanish steps–Hasserjian comman’s a presence during performances that is only upstaged by his humility and dedication to his passion off of the stage.
It was a long path that Hasserjian took to get to the Manoogian Center in Pasadena–we’re not just talking Lebanon to the US. Hasserjian–like many of his generation–has worked and continues to work at a regular 9-5 job that has little to do with his first love–opera. A few years ago–he made a decision to take better care of his health–organize his personal finances–and devote himself to honing his God given talent to sing opera.
"He just has a passion for the music," commented Ardashes Kassakhian–a friend and supporter of the young tenor. "His knowledge of opera is remarkable and his dedication to his craft is to be admired."
Kassakhian tells of Uncle Leo’s Opera circle–an unofficial group of friends of the tenor’s who regularly attend the Los Angeles Opera’s performances partly for the operas and partly for the pre and post commentary by Hasserjian.
"If you want front row tickets to Lakers vs. Phoenix game–right behind Jack Nicholson at the Staples Center–I’m sure there’s someone out there and I don’t know them," observes Kassakhian. "But say it’s the night of a performance of Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro with Bayradakian as the lead and tickets have been sold out for weeks. Who are you going to call? I know who I will. Levon is our Opera hook up!"
There are a lot of young and talented Armenia’s out there who talk about their dreams–who dream about their passions–but who rarely follow the path their talent or dreams have laid out for them. Hasserjian’s an exception and one from whom we can expect greater things to come.