is always fascinating to encounter new singers and the
Armenian-born soprano Karine Babajanyan seems on this hearing
to be set for a great career. She started taking piano
lessons at the age of seven and then studied singing and
choir direction at the Erivan City Conservatory. She took
part in master-classes in Italy and after that joined the
Armenian National Opera. In 1999 she moved to Germany where
she soon became a member of the Stuttgart State Opera.
She has also appeared at the Bregenz Festival (as Tosca)
and has guested in several opera houses including in Mexico.
For her debut disc she has chosen an all-Puccini programme
but her stage appearances have been more wide-ranging including
the Contessa in Le nozze di Figaro
, Fiordiligi in Così fan
and Leonora in Il trovatore
first bars of Butterfly’s Un bel di, vedremo
a classy voice, handled with taste and innate musicality.
She varies the vocal colours skilfully and works with pastel
nuances rather than broad brush-strokes of oil. At climactic
moments her tone is bright, strong and steady. This aria
is an impressive calling-card, memorable more for warmth
and humanity than for brilliance. In the extended duet
that concludes act I of the same opera, her Pinkerton is
veteran Giuseppe Giacomini, who for four decades has been
one of the foremost dramatic Italian tenors, sadly overlooked
by the major record companies. He was a superb Alvaro in La
forza del destino
in Verona twenty years ago and it
was well into 2000 that I saw him as Otello, a role where
he had few superiors. He was beginning to show some signs
of ageing then and this is also noticeable here, but considering
that he was 67 at the time of recording this is hardly
surprising. He has preserved the voice remarkably well,
though the singing is inevitably more effortful and under
pressure the vibrato tends to loosen. It is still a considerable
achievement and I suppose he was inspired by singing the
role that was his professional debut in Verelli 1966. As
for Ms Babajanyan hers is a Butterfly that should conquer
the world’s stages. It is not only a fine voice; there
is a soul behind it. She also dares to hold back and sing
softly and save her power for the climaxes.
death scene may uncover some limitations in her armoury.
This is the most testing portion of the opera – especially
in the opera house when she has already been singing so
much. It is a fine reading but it seems that in so young
and fresh a voice the vibrato should be less prominent.
It no doubt enhances the sense of a woman for whom no mental
barriers exist any more – and Callas expresses her despair
with even more distorted sounds. And I repeat: it is
fine reading and it only confirms the good impression established
by the previous items.
Butterfly is a voice-killer. Mirella Freni recorded it
twice with splendid results, but she fought shy of singing
it in the theatre, and the wonderful but underrated Mafalda
Favero (1903–1981) declared that the role foreshortened
her career by five years.
is no voice-killer and at the great melodic outpouring
at the climax of Si, mi chiamano Mimi
is second to none – and has that little hint of a Tebaldi-to-be
that adds bite to the reading and rinses away any tendency
to sentimentality. Donde lieta usci
is again rather
restrained and the pastel metaphor is applicable here too,
but the climactic phrases have all the requisite power.
is definitely not representative of Tosca as a whole. This inward
prayer is in the opera a moment of repose in the midst
of the blood-curling situation – similar to the function
of the intermezzo from Cavalleria rusticana
is some widening of vibrato also here in the powerful
phrases in the middle of the aria, but this goes well
with the character, and at the ultimate climax there
can be no reservations. Since Tosca is one of Karine
Babajanyan’s active stage roles it would have been nice
to hear her in the first act duet as well, when one of
the great Cavaradossis of the last thirty-five years
was at hand.
he demonstrated with aplomb his capacity in the emotionally
charged duet from the second act of Manon Lescaut
where the soprano reveals impressive mezzo-soprano quality
down low. Giacomini is wonderfully responsive and if one
can think away the slight wobble at fortissimo it is a
rendering to challenge many a tenor’s half his age. And
he sings a fine pianissimo in the final bar of the duet.
Before that Karine Babajanyan has sung a glowing In
quelle trine morbide
, painted with surprisingly broad
brush-strokes. The desolate last act aria is even darker
in tone and she conveys the resignation with chilling effect.
from Suor Angelica
is well suited to her though no one in
my experience has surpassed Victoria de Los Angeles in
her complete recording for EMI (review
I have recently listened to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in
Liù’s two arias from Turandot
, in separate recordings
she made 1949-1950 as well as in the complete recording
(with Callas in the title role) made in 1957. About the
latter I wrote that she ‘sings Liù with Lieder-like care
for detail and nuance. Hers is not an Italianate voice
but her approach to the role, closer to Mozart than Puccini,
makes this a truly touching reading’. Karine Babajanyan
shows strikingly what is missing with Schwarzkopf – the
natural Italianate vibrancy. Liù is frail and vulnerable
but she is also strong-willed and she has the strength
and courage to set herself up against even the icy princess
in the last act aria which here is given a reading in
the top flight.
afraid it was a mistake to place Nessun dorma
the last number of this recital. Firstly it makes better
sense, even in a recital of separate numbers, to present
the items in chronological order; secondly this is after
all Babajanyan’s recital and it should have ended with
her. Apart from that I am deeply impressed by the resources
Giuseppe Giacomini could muster yesteryear.
Giorgio Morandi knows his Puccini and the Budapest Symphony
Orchestra is a splendid ensemble. The recording is fine
and the only carping concerns the lack of printed texts.
series of arias – and in this case also a couple of duets – is
certainly revealing for a new artist but for a final verdict
I would like to hear her also in a complete opera. The
impression of this disc is however that Karine Babajanyan
is eminently promising and I am convinced she will have
a great career in years to come.