NEW YORK, NY – Brooklyn’s Master Theater was transformed into the shores of Lake Sevan during the world debut of Barsegh Kanachian’s opera The Monk on Friday, October 13, as part of the First Time Around the World Stage series.
The tragic opera, which for the first time featured the talents of the Astghikner Vocal Ensemble and the Shushi Dance Ensemble, was performed under the skilled direction of Gosh Sargsyan and Maria Sahakyan, along with musical director Knarik Vardanyan and choreographer Seta Kantardjian.
Organized under the auspices of the Diocese of the Armenian Church of America (Eastern) with Archbishop Khajag Barsamian presiding and hosted by the Sahakyan brothers, the youthful voices of the performers filled the grand stage as the aesthetic beauty of the Shushi Dance Ensemble accentuated the beautiful love story of Seda, the prince’s daughter, who becomes the object of a young monk’s affection on Armenia’s Lake Sevan.
Hailing from Armenia, Sargsyan discovered this musical masterpiece piece after 80 years of silence.
“The stunning love story is a battle between faith and love and was lost in the dirty archives of Armenia,” said Sargsyan, who has decades of experience working with child actors in Armenia at the Abovyan Armenian State Pedagogical University. “While the monk saves Seda from drowning in the ocean, he loses the peace of his body and soul.”
In the audience was special guest Seda Kanachian, the 90-year-old daughter of the composer, who traveled from Boston to witness the American premiere of The Monk that her father staged almost a century ago at the Grand Theater in Beirut, Lebanon. Kanachian wrote the libretto based on the drama Ancient Gods by Levon Shant and staged the world premiere in 1939, dedicating it to his wife Christine, who played the part of Seda.
“Today is the happiest day of my life,” said Kanachian. “I was 12 years old the first time my father performed this opera and today, after 78 years, I am still enjoying this dream.”
Though staging a successful rebirth of The Monk was rewarding for the cast, crew and audience, it came with months of hard work.
“We had many difficulties and obstacles, but thanks to our creative team, faith and devotion to our work, we were able to overcome these challenges and present this opera to music lovers,” said Sahakyan, founder of Astghikner Vocal Ensemble, which includes children of all ethnic backgrounds and was established at the St. Gregory Mission Parish of Brooklyn in 2015.
One of the challenges, according to Sahakyan, who studied vocals and piano at the Komitas State Conservatory of Yerevan, was working with a younger generation of students, ages 4-16, who did not have formal musical training and who were performing on stage for the very first time.
In just a few months, Sahakyan and her team were able to teach the children theatric and vocal importance. Sargsyan flew in from Armenia to direct the group of actors prior to the show, spending four to six hours a day at rehearsal with the cast.
What motivates both Sahakyan and Sargysan is their mission to preserve the Armenian treasures of music, which they are able to convey through the creation of The First Time Around The World Stage Program, a series that will continue to stage Armenian-American cultural projects, while welcoming children of all ages and backgrounds.
“Our ensemble is a nation-friendly ensemble that accepts everyone and the children’s voices spread the beauty of our culture,” said Sahakyan, noting that her students are of Korean, Jewish, Russian, American, Armenian and Georgian backgrounds and who perform Armenian spiritual and classical music.
“I am so proud that my students, Armenian and non-Armenian, learned about the rich Armenian culture and music,” said Sahakyan. “All of our hard work paid off and this is only the beginning of our amazing journey to the future.”