Toronto opera singer commemorates loved ones lost to pandemic through performance

Opera singer

Singing opera was the last thing to do Vartan by Gabrielian spirit, growing up as an energetic Armenian child in North York.

He was a rowdy man, his parents keeping him in church to keep him on the straight and narrow. But he didn’t know that fate would find him there.

“I was seven years old when I first met Father Meghrig Parikian,” Gabrielian told Global News one afternoon. Parikian was a new priest who joined the church and heard Vartan – an altar boy at the time – sing.

“I didn’t notice he noticed my voice,” Gabrielian said. “But all I knew was that one evening, he said, be here at this hour and you will work with a choir director.”

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Father Parikian saw him as more than just a troublemaker, Gabrielian told Global News, and Parikian quickly became his mentor. He believed in Vartan’s talent so much that Parikian convinced Vartan’s father to put him in singing lessons.

“By far, they were my biggest supporters,” Gabrielian said. “That blind, faithful faith in a youngster is, I think, all it takes to propel him, and that’s what gave me that.”

It wasn’t long before Gabrielian’s career took off.

After studying at a prestigious music school in Philadelphia, the Curtis Institute of Music, on a full scholarship, Gabrielian made his professional debut in 2018 with the opera company, Opéra de Montréal.

Later, he joined the Canadian Opera Company as a member of an ensemble where he made his Toronto debut in Rusalka.

But then the pandemic hit, robbing productions that would have opened doors. Then in late 2020, COVID-19 robbed two of its biggest supporters.

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“My dad just started getting worse and backsliding,” Gabrielian said, recalling when his dad was infected with the virus in November 2020. wasn’t enough, and COVID won that one.

A month after his father’s death, Vartan’s mentor, Parikian, also died of COVID. With the demise of his two greatest champions, Vartan was lost.

“Who am I doing this for now?” he told Global News.


Then came an opportunity that would change everything.

A few months after losing his father and mentor, Gabrielian was invited to star in a co-production put on by Against the Grain Theater and the Canadian Opera Company – a co-production that couldn’t have been more timely.

The production? by Mozart Requiem. The word “requiem” literally means an act or sign of remembrance.

Requiem is done in memory of those who have passed away,” Gabrielian explained. “What’s special is that this specific production was meant to be done in memory and remembrance of everyone we lost during COVID.”

For Gabrielian, the performance was not just a chance to heal and commemorate the fathers who helped give him his voice. It was, he said, an opportunity “to live honoring those we have lost.”

He hopes for the performance of Requiem will inspire people to care for those who have lost loved ones during the pandemic and make those who are grieving feel less alone.

It’s a reminder, he says, that as we look to the future, we must remember those who remain – and that we are not soloists, but together.

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.