Arda Mandikian (1924 – 2009)
Greek soprano championed by Benjamin Britten has died
The soprano Arda Mandikian, whose repertoire spanned from the music of the Byzantine empire to contemporary opera, has died.
Born in 1924 in Smyrna, Mandikian studied at the Athens Conservatory with Elvira de Hildago, alongside the soprano Maria Callas. Her opera debut in 1950, in England, as Dido in Berlioz’s Les Troyens was an artistic triumph. She went on to sing roles at the Paris Opera and Covent Garden, including the Niece in Britten’s Peter Grimes and, in 1954, the title role in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Le coq d’or.
After hearing her sing in performances of his own music, the composer Benjamin Britten noticed Mandikian, and she was cast as the Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia. And it was with her vocal and dramatic dexterity in mind that Britten created the role of Miss Jessel in The Turn of the Screw, which she performed at the work's premiere in Venice in 1954.
A lover of Greek folksong, Mandikian, with the help of leading scholar Egon Wellesz performed a recital celebrating ‘Twenty-one centuries of Greek song’ at Morley College in 1949. In the same year she recorded all six Delphic fragments – the few surviving hymns from Ancient Greece – in the Greek theatre at Delphi, which was later issued as the first item in one of HMV’s Histories of Singing.
When Mandikian’s mother fell ill in the early 1960s, the soprano returned to Athens. Here, her performing career was stifled as she rebelled against the junta by refusing to sing in public. Although she was invited to perform abroad, she was unable to travel for fear of not being allowed to return to her country. Mandikian became joint director of the Greek National Opera, and later president of the Maria Callas Society. She will be remembered for her unique voice and for her service in fighting political injustice and encouraging young artists in her lifetime.