Khachatur Badalyan stars in L’Opera de Montréal’s production of Rusalka and follows in long line of great Russian tenors
By Richard Burnett
(performance photos by Michael Daniel of the OdeM/Minnesota Opera production)
Russian tenor Khachatur Badalyan was starring in a production of Wagner’s opera Lohengrin at the Novaya Opera in Moscow in 2007 when in the middle of a scene in the third act everything went horribly wrong. “I had just finished a duet with [the character] Elsa and the bad guy is supposed to kill me with a sword,” Badalyan recalls. “So I’m supposed to grab a gun. But the prop guy forgot to put the gun where it was supposed to be onstage and I kept fumbling around for it. Meanwhile, the bad guy is looking at me like, “Are you going to shoot me or what?’ So I pretended to shoot him with magic. The baritone playing the bad guy just about died and the audience, they – they knew!”
But what a wonderfully long strange trip Badalyan’s career has been so far. In Montreal rehearsing for his starring role in Czech composer Antonín Dvořák’s masterpiece Rusalka being presented by L’Opéra de Montréal, Badalyan says, “I studied since childhood to become a painter and I [had] almost finished the school when I decided to become an economst and even got [that] diploma from university. That’s when I decided to become a singer. In my family we always liked to listen to classical music. So I have always loved opera. But I never imagined it would become my profession.”
Badalyan continues, “I actually started singing jazz around age 19. When my parents told me my voice sounded more like opera, we consulted [music] teachers. And so I returned to school [at the Rostov State Conservatory of Music] for five years. I thought, ‘Why not?’”
Meanwhile, following the success of The Marriage of Figaro, L’Opéra de Montréal’s 32nd season continues with Dvořák’s masterpiece Rusalka which is based on Anderson’s The Little Mermaid, but with a (of course) tragic ending. This is also the first time this opera is being performed in Quebec, not to mention almost all of the singers in the cast are making their L’Opéra de Montréal debuts, starting with the soprano in the title role, American Kelly Kaduce, who will sing one of her signature roles here in North America. The prince is being played byBadalyan in not just his Montreal debut, but his North American debut.
And this Minnesota Opera and The Boston Lyric Opera’s co-production of Rusalka brings opera fully into the 21st century with its five LED screens literally turning the stage into an electronic canvas, doing for opera what bluescreen technology did for Hollywood. Stage Director Eric Simonson (working in collaboration with Bill Murray) has seen his work receive a very warm response at initial performances of the production in Minnesota and Denver, as did the sets by Erhard Rom and costumes by Kärin Kopischke. The use of video projections, created by a specialist in the process, Wendall K. Harrington, contribute to the opera’s magical and surreal atmosphere. Anne-Catherine Simard-Deraspe returns to design the lighting. John Keenan is conducting the Orchestre Métropolitain, while Claude Webster leads the Opéra de Montréal Chorus.
As for Badalyan he won first prize in the International Tenor Competition in St. Petersburg at the Obraztsova Foundation in memory of Luciano Pavarotti in 2008; then won first prize at Moscow’s Galina Vishnevskaya III International Opera Singers Competition in 2010; and earlier this year won second prize at the First International Singing Competition “Marcello Giordani” in Italy. The ages of 30 to 35 is generally considered prime years for a tenor and Badalyan – now 29 – is just hitting his stride.
Which makes his North American debut in Montreal that much more auspicious. “I am very excited to make not just my Montreal debut, but my North American debut, especially with this opera,” he says.
But the Russian tenor – who has also sung on The Bolshoi stage where so many opera greats have performed for almost 200 years – remains modest. “If people think I am a good singer,” he says, “then I am happy.”
Rusalka by Antonín Dvořák
At Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier at Place des Arts
November 12, 15, 17, and 19 at 7:30 pm