La Sierra to host U.S. premiere of French opera
April 16, 2013
By Darla Martin Tucker
RIVERSIDE, Calif. – (www.lasierra.edu) With a cast of professional musicians, La Sierra University’s music department will raise the curtain next week on a 106-year-old French opera in its first full American production.
The two-act work, “Thérèse,” was written by French composer Jules Massenet and debuted in 1907 in Monte Carlo. The lushly melodic, dramatically intense opera depicts the heartache and heroism of love and duty during the French Revolution.
La Sierra’s production will take place at 7 p.m. on Wed., April 24 in Hole Memorial Auditorium. General admission is $10. The cast consists of mezzo soprano Cynthia Jansen, Kevin St. Clair, tenor, Owen Lovejoy, tenor, Aram Barsamian, baritone, Aaron Ball, baritone, and David Clemensen, piano.
The musicians’ extensive backgrounds include performances with major opera companies and orchestras around the world including the Bavarian State Opera, the Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Baltimore operas, the Helsinki Philharmonic, the Gulbenkian Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Pacific Symphony and Chorale, and the Long Beach Symphony.
Barsamian, an adjunct vocal professor at La Sierra, conceived the idea of bringing “Thérèse” to La Sierra and is directing the opera. Barsamian served as the university’s interim opera director between 2004-2008. The singer describes himself as a “great fan” of Massenet’s music. In 2007 he performed portions of Massenet’s “Thérèse” in New York City with mezzo-soprano Julie De Vaere. He also directed two Massenet operas at La Sierra – “Cendrillon” in 2004 and “Thaïs” in 2006 – and remembers the impact on audiences. “I know and believe in the power of Massenet's music and I am so excited that I get to present this opera with our audience,” Barsamian said.
“Thérèse” is written in Massenet’s characteristic lush Romantic style, with gorgeous melodies throughout. The action takes place at the time of the French Revolution, during the Reign of Terror. It follows the travails of Thérèse, her husband, André, and André’s friend, Armand the Marquis de Clerval. André attempts to save Armand from the revolutionists who are regularly sending French aristocracy and supporters of the monarchy to the guillotine. The revolutionists eventually capture André as well. Thérèse has fallen in love with Armand in the meanwhile, but she ultimately chooses a dutiful path and supports her husband’s cause, bringing about her downfall alongside his.
Barsamian and the other artists are donating their talent for the evening’s performance. For Barsamian, it is an act of “paying it forward,” of passing on a love of classical music developed during his early school years in the isolated provinces of Bulgaria.
“We lived far from most cultural centers and being poor, could not even dream of leaving town for a weekend to go to the opera or to a symphony concert. Thank goodness the school brought the music to us,” he said. “I got to hear Mozart, Beethoven, Shostakovich, [and more] and those experiences had a profound affect on me and on my subsequent decision to dedicate my life to music.”
Barsamian, a resident of Fullerton, received his Master of Music degree from the University of Southern California and made his professional operatic debut as Schaunard in “La bohéme” with the Sacramento Opera. He has performed in 12 productions with the company and with many other organizations including the Pacific Repertory Opera, the Merola Opera Program, Opera Santa Barbara, the Lyric Opera of Los Angeles and with the San Francisco Opera in Benjamin Britten’s “Death in Venice.”
Barsamian is an active concert artist as well and is a member of the Pacific Chorale as bass section leader. Barsamian has taught voice at La Sierra since 2001 and is on the faculties of Pasadena City College and Mount San Antonio College.
For further information call 951-785-2036. The university is located at 4500 Riverwalk Parkway, Riverside.