For the closing concert of the Armenian Philharmonic’s 2012-13 season, the orchestra honored the 200th anniversary year of the births of Giuseppe Verdi and Richard Wagner, with a concert of selections (a “Gala,” as they refer to such concerts in the former Soviet space). Hasmik Papian performed the soprano solos, and Eduard Topchjan conducted.
Papian, born in Yerevan but based in Vienna, has apparently made quite a career singing Verdi, and similar, heroines with her expressive large voice. Although we only had arias, she clearly knew she had taken the stage and assumed the roles. Verdi filled the program before the intermission (she sang arias from Ballo, Don Carlo, and Forza). But she has recently added Wagner to her repertory, and we got that after the intermission. Her voice certainly handled Senta in the 2nd Act ballad from Holländer and Elisabeth’s “Dich teure Halle” from Tannhäuser (that particular aria coming across in with a poignant twinkle, since she clearly showed she had made a triumphant return to her hometown’s large concert hall, where she got her professional start in the opera house on the back side of the same building). When it came to Isolde’s Liebestod from Tristan, however, her voice may not yet have filled that role, especially if she had to sing for hours beforehand, but she made an excellent case as an Isolde for the not distant future. For an encore, she treated the house to a rousing “Ritorna vincitor!” from Verdi’s Aida. In this case, she herself had returned home triumphant. The audience roared.
Papian aside, any concert with Topchjan conducting is worth going to. In addition to the arias, the program also contained a selection of overtures. The orchestra gave suitably spirited renditions of the overtures to Vespri Siciliani and Forza del Destino, which not only showed off some powerful chorales but also delicate solo work on the middle strings and winds. I do not know how often Topchjan gets to conduct opera, but he certainly can convey a sense of the dramatic in the overtures. The question on this hot night, though, was whether the orchestra would whither after intermission when the Verdi gave way to Wagner. The Prelude to Lohengrin that opened the second half of the concert answered the question: the orchestra sounded even warmer and more lush. But whereas it handled bits of Lohengrin, Holländer, and Tannhäuser, the next question was whether the Prelude from Tristan might not prove its undoing. Yet here Topchjan had the orchestra sounding its best, effortlessly navigating the chromatics while keeping the full tone – another question with a good answer. The thing is, this orchestra still has flaws, but when Topchjan conducts they sound completely different.
I hope they sound this good next season.