Opera Lively has interviewed the great Armenian tenor Yeghishe Manucharyan, who sang the part of Lensky for our partners Opera Carolina’s performance of Eugene Onegin in March 2012. [Opera Lively interview # 11]
Mr. Manucharyan has a fabulous voice (see the video clip at the end of this interview). OL’s reporter has seen him at the Metropolitan Opera performing Eustazio in Rossini’s Armida.
He has performed with many other American companies, including Tulsa Opera (La Bohème, La Traviata, Eugene Onegin), the Opera Orchestra of New York at Carnegie Hall (which specializes in presenting operas in concert form – he did The Tsar’s Bride and Anna Bolenna with them), New York City Opera (Don Giovanni, Les Pêcheurs de Perles), Minnesota Opera (La Donna del Lago), San Diego Opera (Maria Stuarda), Baltimore Opera (Rigoletto, Die Zauberflöte), Boston Opera (Les Pêcheurs de Perles), Toledo Opera (Il Barbiere di Siviglia) and others, including in his repertoire the greatest tenor roles in the above works, such as Lensky, Alfredo, Count Almaviva, Nadir, The Duca di Mantova, Rodolfo, etc.
He also boasts in his resume a world premiere of the role of Potoski in Donizetti’s long-lost opera Élisabeth with the Caramoor International Music Festival.
Before joining these international houses and orchestras, Mr. Manucharyan was very active in his native Armenia as the principal tenor of the Armenian National Opera, where he sang leading roles including Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Cassio in Otello, Count Almaviva in Il barbiere di Siviglia, Don Ramiro in La cenerentola, Beppe/Arlecchino in I pagliacci, and Saro in Anoush.
In addition to opera, Mr. Manucharyan has also performed extensively other genres of vocal classical music, including Verdi's Messa da Requiem, Bruckner's Te Deum, Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 and the Missa Solemnis, Berlioz’s Requiem, and many others.
Yeghishe Manucharyan graduated from the Tchaikovsky Central Music School in Armenia in 1988, earning a Bachelor of Music in French Horn Performance. He continued his studies at the Komitas State Conservatory in Armenia, where he earned a Master of Music in French Horn Performance (1993) and in Vocal Performance (1995).
The Boston Globe has referred to Mr. Manucharyan as “a clarion, gorgeously ringing and heroically consistent from top to bottom.”
OL – What insights do you have about Lensky’s psychology?
YM – He is an 18 year-old philosopher, genuine poet; a very romantic man, and that’s how I want to create that character, a romantic honest poet.
OL – How did you prepare yourself for the role? Have you done him before?
YM – Yes, I did this role once a couple of years ago with Tulsa Opera. Of course, I read the story by Pushkin, to understand and create the character.
OL – Do you listen to other singers who did the role before you?
YM – I don’t try to listen to other singers because I don’t want to copy them. Naturally if you listen to other tenors you end up trying to sing like them. When I do an opera that is new to me, I try to create my own version of it. I prefer to be on my own.
OL – What do you think of this production, what are your expectations for this one?
YM – It’s going to be a great production. It’s a revival of the same production I did last time with another company. It’s beautiful, it’s very Russian and it’s amazing. The staging is great, all the decors are absolutely beautiful, and are done in that period, it’s a traditional staging.
OL – Do you think singers need to be at least of Russian training to do well this opera?
YM – No. I’m Armenian and I studied at the Tchaikovsky Music School in Armenia, and then I went to an Armenian conservatory; I never studied in Moscow. I speak Russian and I’m very familiar with the Russian culture. I also sing Italian, French, and German music. You don’t need to necessarily be Russian but it helps when you know the culture.
OL – You’re a French horn player, right?
YM – Yes, I graduated from the Tchaikovsky Music School in French horn and the Armenian conservatory in French horn and vocal music.
OL – How do you compare the vocal instrument to the French horn for you? Which one is best to express yourself musically?
YM – Of course the voice is more natural, but in my opinion as long as there is honesty, any instrument like the voice, the violin, the French horn will be appropriate to represent what you want to say through an aria, or a concert. Still, the voice is your body; it’s your instrument, so it’s easier to express yourself that way.
OL – I saw in your resume that you worked for several years in Armenia before coming to the United States and performing several operas for our regional opera companies in many American cities. Was it a difficult transition for you, or do you rather feel that the music business and environment is similar everywhere?
YM – Honestly there is no major difference, because it’s always a matter of working with a conductor, and even when you have a home base the company invites guest conductors, so it’s about the same. There is one big difference, it is that in Armenia if you are a singer with a company you usually get a one-year or a two-year contract with them, so for two years you take on any opera that they are doing, you go to work every month and every day, it’s a full time job, you are a soloist for the company. Here in the United States I spend one month working with a company, then I go to a different company, I travel a lot. That’s the only difference, because in musical terms it’s the same thing.
OL – You worked for a long time for the Armenian National Opera. How many different operas did they produce per year?
YM – During the Soviet Union times when I played French horn for the opera company, we used to do 25 different operas per year. After the end of the Soviet Union they started doing a little bit less than that. They did Aida last year, it was their biggest production. Every year they do two or three new productions.
OL – Is opera more popular in Armenia than in the United States, in your opinion?
YM – Yes. It is very popular there. It’s great, people love it; all performances are sold out. It’s a great tradition over there. When I was in high school, there were buses to take us to the opera, and the companies gave the kids free tickets to see the performances at the Armenian National Theater. That’s how I got into opera, because I started by singing pop Armenian music, but then once I started attending opera I decided to become a professional opera singer.
OL – I noticed that you sang Nadir from The Pearl Fishers. I love that opera but never had an opportunity to see it live on stage because it’s rarely given; people think of Bizet for Carmen and seem to neglect his other works.
YM – It’s a beautiful opera! I did it so many times! The first time I did it was with Eve Queler, she is a very good conductor with the Opera Orchestra of New York; it was in Mexico. And then I did it with New York City Opera, and Opera Boston, and many many other times, in Europe as well. The opera, like Carmen, has beautiful music from start to the very end. All the performances I did of it were sold out. I’m surprised that it is not given very often by the companies.
OL – Yes, because the public might be curious about it since it is composed by Bizet.
YM – Oh yes, I wish this company Opera Carolina will do it and I’ll have a chance to sing it here, because it is my favorite opera, I love it.
OL – Great, it’s one of my favorites too; I actually wrote an article about it, I’ll send you the link.
YM – Yes, yes, yes! I love the aria Je crois entendre encore, and every time I have a chance to sing it in concert or in audition, that’s the one I pick. And the duet with the baritone is beautiful! [Proceeds to sing over the phone Au fond du temple saint]. The soprano arias are beautiful; every single piece in that opera is brilliant! Maybe I’ll ask the maestro if he is willing to do it! [Editor’s note: we learned later from the maestro that Mr. Manucharyan did make the suggestion during rehearsals, and Maestro Meena accepted it; he is scheduling The Pearl Fishers at Opera Carolina for April of 2012, and hopes to bring back Mr. Manucharyan to sing it; great!]
OL – What are your next engagements?
YM – My next engagement is with the Boston Symphony Hall, singing Rachmaninoff’s The Bells. It’s very interesting music and I’m singing it for the first time. Anything by Rachmaninoff is just amazing. Then I’m doing a big concert at Lincoln Center. Then I’m back here in Charlotte singing with the Carolina Symphony, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in early May so I’ll back.[laughs]
OL – Oh, nice!
YM – Then I’ll be singing at Carnegie Hall on May 28. Then I have Canada and next European engagements, so it’s just travel all over the world.
OL – Is it tough on your personal life? Did you like better the time when you were a full time soloist for the Armenian National Opera, or do you prefer all this travelling around?
YM – Ah… it’s hard to answer the question because when you’re traveling it is hard, you are away from your family, from your home. But if you are with a single company for many years, it’s not as good artistically. An artist must travel and sing with different companies, different colleagues. So on one hand it is good, on the other hand it is bad, but that’s the way, there is no other choice. There are so many great companies around the world like the Metropolitan Opera, La Scala, you can’t just sit in one place and spend all your life there. But again, it’s not easy; it’s very depressing when you’re away from your family. But you know, it’s gotten better, sometimes my wife and my son come with me, or if not, they come to visit for one week or ten days, that’s a good thing.
OL – Is there anything else you want to tell us about this production or this company?
YM – I’ve been here for only four or five days, but I have to tell you, I’m enjoying every second of working with this company. It’s my debut here. The maestro is great. You can tell from the beginning when you’re working with a new company, of course you can immediately tell how professional they are. And here they have very high standards, everything is very high level. How they organize the schedule, how the work goes, these are all signs that they are very professional. Like I said the maestro is a great conductor and it is a joy to work with him. I’m being very honest; it’s really, really very good. My colleagues are great; these are great singers I’m working with. I can’t wait for the 17th!
I have a video clip of the Lensky song on YouTube, years ago when I sang it, you can include it in your article. It’s a beautiful opera, Tchaikovsky is amazing.
Here is Mr. Manucharyan singing Kuda, kuda, a.k.a. the Lensky Aria. He does it very well; those attending the performance in Charlotte are in for a treat! What a beautiful voice!
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