April 25 2005
Lyric Opera Theater fostered future stars
By ZINNIA FARUQUE
PATERSON – It is the tragic story of a 15-year-old Japanese geisha
who falls in love with a philandering American naval captain. The
girl commits hara-kari, or suicide, when her love is not requited.
Well-known to opera lovers, the story is Puccini’s Madame Butterfly.
In the 1960s, Paterson’s educated elite could see this and other
operatic classics at the starting price of $1.50 in the 600-seat
auditorium of School 26.
The now-defunct Paterson Lyric Opera Theater was a breeding ground
for future opera stars. In 1958, Armen Boyajian, a vocal coach and
Paterson native, founded the theater as a stepping stone for talented
young singers. “I began to meet a lot of these singers that I felt
needed an outlet,” said Boyajian, now 73. “There weren’t many opera
companies at the time. There was the Metropolitan Opera House and the
New York City Opera, but they wouldn’t take you unless you had some
Boyajian met many of the singers who joined the opera theater while
he was performing as a piano accompanist. He accompanied such divas
as Beverly Sills, a prolific American soprano. Boyajian, a graduate
of Eastside High School and the son of Armenian immigrants, wanted to
set the stage in his hometown of Paterson. The theater company would
make the scenery in the basement of his parents’ home. Productions
would include an amateur chorus of housewives, plumbers and tailors,
who worked during the day and sang at night.
The opera theater had the distinction of performing productions that
had never before been performed in New Jersey, such as Puccini’s Suor
Angelica, the story of a nun who was banished by her noble family for
the birth of her illegitimate son. “It never did make any money,”
Boyajian said. “It was just for the purpose of getting experience.”
During its 15-year existence, the opera theater launched major
careers for many singers now performing at the Met, La Scala in Milan
and other prominent international opera houses. Most of the singers
were in their 20s and 30s when they joined the Paterson Lyric Opera
Theater. Paul Plishka started at the opera theater when he was 18. At
25, he joined the Metropolitan Opera as one of the youngest singers
to ever debut at the opera company. Samuel Ramey, a well-known bass,
also got his start in Paterson; he is still a major international
opera star. “Both of these guys are in their 60s, and they’re still
going,” said Boyajian.
It took 15 years before the fat lady sang for the Paterson Lyric
Opera Company. Boyajian, who is still a vocal coach in Sussex County,
New Jersey, began to tour with singers. He disbanded the opera
company for greater opportunities. “This was a chance to tour the
world free of charge and make a living,” he said.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress