2011 Armenian Night at the Pops Features Soprano Hasmik Papian, World Premier by John Sarkissian


Hasmik Papian as Norma

By Alin K. Gregorian
Mirror-Spectator Staff

VIENNA, Austria — Hasmik Papian, as the saying goes, has arrived. She is a darling of the European and American top opera houses, as well as a veteran solo performer. In fact, she will next perform in Boston at the Armenian Night at the Pops on June 25. In a recent interview from her home here, lyric soprano Papian spoke about her spectacular rise in the world of opera.

Papian was born and raised in Yerevan, and almost did not become a singer; she was studying the violin. “The decision [to become a soprano] came very late,” she explained. “I always knew I had a voice, but I never thought I would become a professional singer. My friends, for whom I was singing popular songs at parties, they said if I can touch so many people, why should I not try to become a professional singer?”

The instructors for whom she auditioned, clearly agreed. “I started with a jog” rather than small steps. “I was already a musician, so it was easy to sing. It was so natural.”

Within three years, she was on the world stage. Her voice, she said, had already been honed by her frequent singing along to the pieces she was playing, as per the instruction of her violin teacher. In addition, she diligently read about singing technique.

“I won four international competitions and after the first one, the son of the great tenor, Mario Del Monaco, Giovanni, who was the head of Opera Bonn, [in Germany] heard me sing. Bonn, at that time, was the capital of Germany. If you sing well [ in a major city like that] it goes around quickly,” Papian said. She got a contract and started singing there.

That was back in 1993. She started looking for opportunities at the end of her contract there.

She was soon booked for a debut recital at the Vienna State Opera. “I was there for rehearsals at 11 a.m. There was a big crowd at the artists’ entrance. I thought there must have been an accident, but it was only spectators who had come to my rehearsals. They came to wish me good luck. After my debut, I decided if I could not live in Yerevan, this is the place I would love to live,” she recalled.

Hasmik Papian and fan, designer Karl Lagerfeld

While she called Yerevan her “beloved city,” Papian said that Vienna has, hands-down, the “best audiences.” In fact, she said, the government does much to promote opera, and the art form is so identified with the city that there are planeloads of Japanese tourists who come for the weekend to attend a single performance.

She added, “I never left Armenia. I almost look at [my absence] as a business trip.” She noted that she goes back every year and added she plans to live in Armenia at the end of her career.

As for her favorite stage, she said Metropolitan Opera in New York City “is one of the best stages in the world.”

Papian, who specializes in singing bel canto, which includes the operas of Bellini, Donizetti and Verdi, among others, said her favorite role is that of Norma, in the opera of the same name by Bellini. “I have performed it the most in my career — 150 times, in 26 different productions,” she noted.

Papian said singing in an opera such as “Norma” multiple times is exciting. “It’s the music which every time sounds like new to me. Every production is different, the staging is different, the set and partners are different. You always find new colors. This music was written 150 years ago, but it is still very contemporary.”

Papian combines a soaring international career with a family. “I am blessed to be a mother. It is the most important thing in my life. It is a gift that God gave me. My career is wonderful, but for every woman it is important to be a mother,” she said.

She is married to Konrad Kuhn, a dramaturge working for various European theaters, and has one daughter.

Her husband’s profession of helping with research and development of operas being staged, Papian said, allows him to provide tremendous support for her. “Until [my daughter] went to school, we all traveled together. Now she’s 10 and in school and we can’t travel,” she added, noting that she is very grateful to have her mother live with them.

“It is very difficult to be away for six or eight weeks and the distances have become great, like the US, Korea, Japan.”

“She loves to talk to me on the phone. We speak about an hour every day, but she does not like  to Skype,” she noted.

Her daughter, incidentally, is taking piano lessons but no one in the family is pushing her into a musical career.

Success on such a stratospheric level carries with it built-in restrictions and prescriptions for maintaining one’s voice. Papian explained that when she is in full rehearsal mode, she works about eight hours a day studying and rehearsing. The goal, she said, is to hone one’s instrument,  in this case, the body, to such an extent that one’s moods and energy level do not affect the  performance.

Papian’s upcoming schedule includes performing in “La Gioconda” by Amilcare Ponchielli, which is “very rarely performed,” at the summer music festival in Split, Croatia, in July. “It is a very good chance for our family to be at the seaside, all together. I will have fun.”