Soprano Papian Dazzles at Armenian Night at Pops


Lilit and Rouben Shugarian with Hasmik Papian at the post-concert reception

By Nancy Kalajian
Special to the Mirror-Spectator

BOSTON — The 60th annual Armenian Night at the Pops featured world-renowned soprano Hasmik Papian, who did not disappoint.

The Friends of Armenian Culture Society, Inc. (FACS) is the sponsor of this annual event, one of the most anticipated Armenian cultural events in the Greater Boston community. This year, more than 450 tickets were purchased through FACS; during program intermissions, guests were seen greeting each other with warm embraces and sharing their thoughts on the unique program.

Held in the majestic ambiance of Boston’s Symphony Hall, this year’s programming was eclectic. “Triple Crown,” the first part of the program, centered on horses and included the premiere of Randy Newman’s Selections from Seabiscuit. Actress Paula Plum narrated a film on horseracing and “horses’ mystical relationship with man.” Though occasionally she seemed to be drowned out by the music, she nonetheless did an admirable job in a challenging role.

After a long intermission, conductor Keith Lockhart welcomed the Armenian community with an Armenian greeting and expressed admiration for FACS’ ongoing support and commitment to this annual event, now in its 60th year. “This is one of my favorite nights at the Pops,” shared Lockhart. Most of the audience — including many non-Armenians — stood up solemnly as the Boston Pops Orchestra performed the Hayr Mer (the Lord’s Prayer).

As in previous FACS events, the Armenian talent held the audience spellbound.

Lockhart introduced Papian, a “distinguished classical artist” and later admiringly remarked, “It’s an honor to work with someone of her international stature.” In a glittery blue gown, the soprano had great range without a microphone and showed poise and solid voice in performing a variety of pieces.

The mystical Aria-Vocalise by Babadjanian was followed by the well-known Kilikia by Yeranian- Yekmalian. Catalani’s Ebben? Ne andro lontana, from “La Wally” was a dramatically expressed piece that drew huge applause and contrasted with Puccini’s O mio bambino caro, which she sang in a delicate, sensitive manner. Drinking Song, an upbeat and eclectic work by talented young composer John Sarkissian, premiered that evening to favorable review. Listeners gave him a big hand when Lockhart acknowledged him in the audience.

During the evening, Lockhart also acknowledged Ara Arakelian of FACS, the 20th anniversary of the independence of Armenia and the passing of Dr. Keran Chobanian, a FACS founder and supporter. “The Armenian Community, the BSO and Pops lost a great friend,” expressed Lockhart.

The final part of the program had an unexpected variation with bluegrass pieces performed by the talented Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Skaggs explained the personal significance in the touching pieces he and his fellow musicians performed with great skill. The audience seemed energized by the grand songwriting, immense talent and fantastic acoustics during this set.

A new twist this year was that the post-concert reception was held at the nearby Colonnade Hotel, instead of a hall in the Symphony building. Though a bit challenging to access by foot because of a heavy rainfall, most of those who purchased a ticket attended the reception and seemed happy to meet fellow patrons and supporters and even meet the evenings’ stars, Papian and Sarkissian.

During the elegant champagne and desert reception, Arakelian, president of FACS, welcomed the guests and encouraged the participation of the younger generation in future cultural events. “Armenians and Armenian culture have many undiscovered gems and presenting our heritage adds its own unique color to the cultural mosaic of this world,” Arakelian reflected.

Special recognition was given to Chobanian for his decades-long strategic work with FACS. Appreciation was given to FACS supporters, organizers and volunteers including Raffi Yeghiayan, Karen Ucuz, Jessica Manguikian and Robert and Sandra Aghababian.

Eating a delicate sweet, Haig Babaian of Brighton felt the reception was a good place “to chill out after the concert and meet people.” Countless conversations at the reception revolved around the evening’s diverse content.

Sarkissian discussed the creative process in composing Drinking Song. “I worked on it 10 years ago and recently finished it precisely for this occasion,” he said. Joan Sadyan of Connecticut shared with her friends, “I thoroughly liked Hasmik.”

Estrellita Karsh of Boston was just as impressed with Papian and felt, “the spirit on and off the stage was infectious. Papian caught the mood. Each rendition was perfectly done in a way the composer would have wanted it.” Indeed, FACS supporters look forward to future memorable events.