Ara Berberian, Bass Singer in Opera and Musical Theater, Dies at 74

New York Times
Feb 24 2005

Ara Berberian, Bass Singer in Opera and Musical Theater, Dies at 74

Ara Berberian, a warm-voiced bass who sang for 20 years at the
Metropolitan Opera, died early Monday in his sleep at his winter home
in Boynton Beach, Fla. He was 74.

The cause was heart failure, said his wife, Ginny.

Mr. Berberian’s operatic repertory included more than 100 roles, from
Pimen and Varlaam in Mussorgsky’s “Boris Godunov” to Don Basilio in
“The Barber of Seville.” He sang everywhere from New York to Tel
Aviv, San Francisco to Japan. He made his Metropolitan Opera debut in
1979, appearing in Meyerbeer’s “Prophète,” and continued to appear
there for more than 300 performances, until a final “La Bohème” in

He was not exclusively an opera singer. Other notable credits
included the 1964 studio recording of “Oklahoma!,” in which he sang
Jud Fry to John Raitt’s Curly; and a performance of the national
anthem before a World Series game in 1984, when the Detroit Tigers
were playing the San Diego Padres, an experience he described as more
exciting than his Met debut.

Born on May 14, 1930, in Detroit to Armenian parents, Mr. Berberian
attended the Culver Military Academy in Indiana before continuing on
to the University of Michigan, where he studied economics and then
earned a law degree; he practiced law for a year. Mr. Berberian,
whose uncle had been a professional boxer, also flirted with a career
in sports, pitching for the minor-league Kansas City Athletics before
deciding in favor of classical music. He did remain in touch with the
baseball world through a Culver classmate, George Steinbrenner.

Having studied voice privately at the University of Michigan and
participated in numerous productions, he joined the Army and its Army
Chorus. On leaving the Army in 1958, he settled in New York, where he
studied with Beverly Johnson, sang with various choruses and
auditioned, getting jobs with the Robert Shaw Chorale and the New
York City Opera. Laszlo Halasz, the founder of the New York City
Opera, and Lili Chookasian, the mezzo-soprano, introduced him to his
future wife, a chorus singer and fellow Armenian, in a performance of
the Verdi Requiem.

After his retirement Mr. Berberian continued to teach, privately and
in master classes. He also became involved in conservation, both of
land – a few years ago he sold 16 undeveloped acres to the city of
Southfield, the Detroit suburb where he lived, for part of a nature
preserve – and of old barns, which he bought and reassembled at his
year-round home in Southfield.

In addition to his wife, he is survived by his sons Harry Artin
Berberian and Ara Jon Berberian; a daughter, Suzanne Matern; sisters
Alice Haidostian, Hasmig Imirzian and Balig Stein; and two