Isabel Bayrakdarian performs at the Lobero with Mark Fewer, violin, and Jamie Parker, piano. | Credit: David Bazemore

A freshly-anointed pride of Santa Barbara, Isabel Bayrakdarian is an international artist gone local and worldly in various ways. The famed soprano, entrenched in a career in opera houses, on stages, and multiple recordings, recently set down 805 roots as a professor in UCSB’s Voice and Opera departments. In the latter capacity, audiences savored her inventive resourcefulness as co-creator of an innovative spin on The Magic Flute at UCSB earlier this year, with elements of dance and puppetry in tow.

Her global-local story continues. Saturday at the Lobero, as part of CAMA’s “Masterseries,” Bayrakdarian presented a fascinating program of her devising, “Glorious and Free: Romani-Inspired Songs and Operetta Arias,” abetted by formidable Canadian musicians Jamie Parker, piano, and Mark Fewer, violin. Worldly connections flow freely and laterally for this Lebanese-born Canada-bred woman of Armenian descent. As she mentioned, the term “glorious and free” comes from Canada’s national anthem, and the bright yellow and blue hues of the musicians’ attire implied solidarity with war-torn Ukraine.

For starters, Bayrakdarian extended her commanding, supple vocal powers on sets of “Gypsy Songs” by high Romantics Brahms and Dvorak (“Gypsy” being the obsolete, politically-incorrect term for Romani culture and people). Many of the songs pine over love’s complications. Occasionally, as in the finale of Dvorak’s song set, they praise the nomadic, free-spirited Romani life:  “Just as a wild horse rushes to the wasteland, seldom bridled and reined in, so too the Romanic nature has been given eternal freedom!”

Pianist Parker provided an instrumental interlude with such Romani-flavored Brahms chestnuts as the “Hungarian Dance No. 5 in F-sharp minor.” An instrumental break also graced after intermission, as Fewer acquitted himself with required virtuosic flair — Romani-esque abandon and teasing “wait for it…” restraint — on Sarasate’s Zigeunerweisen (Aires Gitanos).

Bayrakdarian further explored the profound influence of Romani flavors on the standard western classical canon by performing songs by the underrecognized composer Sebastian Iradier, including “El Arreglito,” which Bizet shamelessly borrowed/lifted for his “Habanera” in Carmen. She also sang that famous “Bizet” aria for reference. The evening steered into a final flourish of songs by Maurice Yvain, Operetta king Franz Lehar and Emmerich Kalman, plus a light-hearted splash of Victor Herbert’s “Gypsy” as an encore bonbon. Bayrakdarian delivered an ambitious example of her gifts as a vocalist and musical explorer with the world on her mind.

Support the Santa Barbara Independent through a long-term or a single contribution.


Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.