Jan. 24, 2024

Butler Studio Artist Navasard Hakobyan: My Concert of Arias Story

NAVASARD HAKOBYAN (Right). Second-Year Butler Studio Artist. First-Place Winner, Concert of Arias 2022. 2023-24 HGO role: Sharpless in alternate cast performances in Madame Butterfly. Photo Credit: Michael Bishop

Baritone Navasard Hakobyan was already a star on the rise when he learned he’d been named a semi-finalist in the company’s annual Eleanor McCollum Competition Concert of Arias, but he’d never been to the United States. When he got the call, he remembers, “I was so happy.” There was nothing he wanted more than to come to Houston and compete. There was just one problem. His passport was with Armenia’s British Embassy.


Through some combination of luck and determination, he got a second passport and a visa to travel to the U.S. in record time. “It was really crazy,” Hakobyan, now a second-year Butler Studio artist, recalls. He came to town early to practice his English ahead of the competition.


Houston itself was a bit of a culture shock. “When I arrived, I was surprised, because I saw a big city,” Hakobyan says. “Armenia is so different.” Around 10,000 people live in his village, which, he says, has grown. The village has a music school, and it was there that, as a high school student, Hakobyan sang Armenian folk songs. “The director of the music school told me, you have a big voice, you should be an opera singer,” he shares. He went online and discovered Plácido Domingo and the Three Tenors. He was enthralled. “I started listening from morning to night. I found Verdi, oh wow. Puccini, Mahler, wow.”

He went on to study music, receiving his master’s degree from Komitas State Conservatory of


Yerevan. He also served as a member of the young artist program of the National Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet in Yerevan, winning a host of major roles—and a slate of important prizes—along the way.


And then, in 2022, Hakobyan found himself on the Cullen stage at the Wortham Theater Center, announced as the first-place winner of the Concert of Arias. “I was so excited,” he says. “I knew I wanted to be in the Studio.” Since joining the program in fall 2022, he says, he’s learned so much. “I am really happy to be a part of this company,” he says. “I love HGO.”


This fall brought a full-circle moment for Hakobyan, as he competed in Operalia in Cape Town, South Africa, and not only won third place, but also the Don Plácido Domingo Ferrer Prize of Zarzuela. He went from listening to Domingo at home in his village, to meeting the tenor himself after a terrific showing in a major international competition.


Of course, Hakobyan’s story is just beginning. Asked about his dreams for the future, he laughs and shrugs a bit, as if to say, isn’t it obvious? “To sing all the roles at all the houses.”


By Colin Michael Brush, Butler Studio Director, and  

Catherine Matusow, Communications Director


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