Germany-based Armenian opera singer Mkrtich Babajanyan: “The Homeland is what you feel inside”

No matter where the best sons of the Armenian nation live, they manage to create high spiritual and cultural values and let the whole world now about Armenia and the Armenians. There are many remarkable Armenians who are themselves great achievements for the Armenian nation in the fields of song, music, painting, dance and creative work and serve as the unique “passport” of Armenians and Armenianness around the world. One of them is famous German-based Armenian opera singer Mkrtich Babajanyan, who was recently hosted at the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia and later in the editorial office of Hayern Aysor electronic newspaper where he gave an interesting interview for Hayern Aysor.

Karine Avagyan: Dear compatriot, welcome to the Homeland, particularly the Ministry of Diaspora of the Republic of Armenia. We all know the purpose of your visit, but I would like for you to provide details and present your career.

Mkrtich Babajanyan: I have been living in the German city of Schwerin for the past 11 years, but I received my musical education as a choirmaster, opera and symphony group director and opera singer at Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory. I also obtained my PhD in Armenia. After graduating, I worked at the National Opera House of Armenia as a conductor and performed as a soloist when Loris Tchgnavorian was the conductor of the Armenian National Philharmonic Orchestra. I gave many concerts during those years. I left Armenia in 1999 since I had signed an employment contract with opera singer Karine Babajanyan.

Karine Avagyan How old were you when you performed a song in an opera for the first time?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: My dream was to become a singer. I started taking singing lessons at Davit Zalyan’s School for Preservation of Child Voices, but when my voice starting mutating, I was advised to continue my studies in the section for choirmasters at Romanos Melikyan Music School. I started singing later, but the change took place rather quickly because I already had professional experience as a choirmaster and conductor, and it would obviously help me. The first song I performed in an opera was with Karine in a German city. Karine performed the role of Butterfly in the “Butterfly” opera, and I performed the role of Sharpless. This is how we began our careers in Germany.

Karine Avagyan: Can we consider this the start of your success story?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: I can’t consider this the start of my success story. I think it was in 2003 or 2004 when the “Othello” opera was being staged in the theater of Bonn, and I was playing the role of Yago. The local presses were highly focused on and would provide coverage of all events devoted to culture and the arts. There are two popular magazines in Europe – “Opera World” and “Opera Telescope”. These two magazines only feature articles devoted to operas, and it is in those magazines that covered my performance. I was simply amazed that I was highly appreciated at such a young age (the title read “Armenian Singer Can Consider Himself One Of The Best Performers Of The Role Of Iago”). After that, I received the title of Best Baritone of the Year.

Karine Avagyan: Were you employed by the German government immediately? Were you accepted by music lovers immediately?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: Everything takes time. We left with an employment contract, and in order to present yourself, you need to have agents (opera singers in Germany have agents, who are referred to as managers in Armenia), and present you. In the beginning, I tried to present myself on my own. I wrote my CV and sent it to nearly 20 opera houses so that I could play in one of them after auditions. Nothing worked out. Later, when I got accepted to an agency, things changed. When I had 6 agents in different cities, I had more opportunities.

Karine Avagyan: Which stages have you performed on?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: I have performed on almost all the big stages in Germany.  I have also sung in many countries and several cities, including Tokyo and Hong Kong. I have also been to Austria, France, Finland, Holland and the United States of America.

Karine Avagyan: How many songs do you perform in the course of a year or a month? Are the roles your preferred roles?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: I have been an employee twice, and when a singer performs in a theater, he has to perform whatever role he is given. When a singer’s career starts advancing, he can’t stay in the same place. He has to be free so that he can make choices and sing the songs that he wants to sing. There are 52-53 operas on my list. In Germany, you learn about 7 new operas a year, and perform 7-9 operas in a month.

Karine Avagyan: Mr. Babajanyan, what is the song of your dreams and the song that you still aren’t ready to perform?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: It is the song of Migele, Il Tabaro’s jealous husband in Puccini’s “Triptich”. However, this is for singers with an innate talent. Later, I might perform the big roles of Vagner or Richard Strauss.

Karine Avagyan: Do the Germans know Armenian operas and great Armenian composers? Have you managed to foster recognition of the Armenians with your performances?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: They know that there are Armenian operas. They only know Aram Khachaturian as a composer, and few Germans know about Komitas…On the occasion of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I gave concerts and performed the aria of Davit Bek.

Karine Avagyan: Let’s touch upon the performance that you will be giving in Shushi on September 1. The event is dedicated to the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Shushi and the birth anniversary of Haro Stepanyan.

Mkrtich Babajanyan: Shushi is going to host a splendid ceremony, which will be held under the high patronage of First Lady of the Republic of Armenia Rita Sargsyan. Haro Stepanyan’s epic opera “David of Sassoun” will be performed during the event. Musician/choirmaster Sarina Avtandilyan contacted me six months ago. When I was in Armenia last year, I ran into French-Armenian filmmaker Suren Shahijanyan. We talked and he asked me if I could sing the song of the main character and if I was interested. This epic opera is not a classic opera. It is more of a modern opera. It is based on Armenian national melodies. There are parts that are influenced by Komitas. This is quite a large-scale opera. If I am not mistaken, there are 18 soloists, a choir and a ballet group. I will be performing the song of David of Sassoun. It is going to be an outdoor event.

I am currently in Armenia to rehearse for the event.

I am very happy that I am going to be participating in such a big event and sing in the beautiful Shushi.

Karine Avagyan: As far as I know, you also paint.

Mkrtich Babajanyan: Yes, my paintings are beyond the scopes of traditional painting. I work with scissors and scalps. I don’t use a pencil or glue at all. My style is new and is different from avant-garde. There are many people interested in this style. I created it myself. There might be a new movement, and this style might also become popular in Armenia. I have held three exhibitions in Germany alone. I have also dedicated a painting to the Armenian community of Stuttgart on the occasion of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide. I have an interesting painting that is called “Expedition with Cross”. The event took place in 1212 when 2,000 children of France and 2,000 children of Germany decided to walk all the way to Jerusalem. However, on the road, the children walking from Germany froze in the Alps and died, while pirates promised the children from France that they would take them to Jerusalem, but took them to an area near Africa and sold them…I performed quite a large task with a sad impression. In the painting, the image of Jesus is accompanying them.

Karine Avagyan: Let’s return to the origins. From whom did you inherit your talent of singing, playing a musical instrument and painting?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: My parents had good voices, My sisters were very musical. My elder sister would play on her own, and my younger sister would play the violin. When I was little, I would make statues from plasticine and would dream of becoming a sculptor…I grew up in the arts. Today, my daughter, Lusine is also in the arts. She doesn’t sing, but she collaborates with singers.

Karine Avagyan: What do the Armenian nation and the Homeland mean to you?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: They are the integral part of my essence. I am Armenian from head to toe. I present my Homeland and the Armenians everywhere I go. On the occasion of the Centennial of the Armenian Genocide, I participated in a television program on German television and sang, but before going to the studio, I told the broadcasters that I would go only if I could bring the pictures of my grandparents from Van. They agreed, and I talked about the Genocide and Turkey’s position on the Genocide on air. I organize hearings devoted to Armenia and the Armenian Genocide once a month with people from various cities across Germany.

Karine Avagyan: What is the title of a singer for you? Is it an honor, or simply a profession that you have chosen?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: Both, but people have more respect towards an opera singer. All doors are open for an opera singer. For me, my profession is a lifestyle.

Karine Avagyan: What does the Homeland mean to you?

Mkrtich Babajanyan: The Homeland is what you feel inside and what you experience in your soul. I was born on this land, am the son of this land and will always be the son of this land!

Interview by Karine Avagyan

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