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Cynthia Hansel Bakic

Cynthia Hansel Bakic - Croatian-American Primadona.

Born in Arlington, Virginia, Cynthia Hansel-Bakić has been surrounded by music from her very earliest years. Coming from an established southern family, already as a child she listened attentively to the songs of the workers coming back from the fields or the gospels sung by the Negro congregation at the nearby church, songs of such touching sadness. The grandeur of their ritual, the depth of meaning, and of course the simple beauty of the music, helped to develop her earliest feelings for the indivisibility of the integrity of words and tone. To these she added graceful and natural body movements, qualities that are founded on a superior sense of musicality and a voice of distinctive quality. Due to all of these innate musical qualities, the desires of her family that she study History were out of the question. She studied privately piano, voice and dance, and at the end of high school she was awarded a four-year scholarship by the Trustees of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. Here she began her fortunate work with professor Lav Vrbanić, a collaboration which lasted until his death. After completion of her studies at the Conservatory, prof. Vrbanić brought his young protégé to Split where she successfully auditioned for the opera there. At 21 she was making her debut in the role of Leonora in “IL TROVATORE” and later became a permanent member of the Croatian National Theatre of Split. A year later she married and has been known ever since, as Cynthia Hansell-Bakić, the Croatian-American singer, who was so passionately outspoken for the future of her new homeland during the years of civil war and it’s struggle for independence and eventual recognition as the Republic of Croatia.

Like most well educated American singers, she has excellent training and a highly sophisticated appreciation of arts in general. Incorporating the experience she gained while singing in the Conservatory chorus under such world famous conductors as Leinsdorf, Ozawa, Mehta, or Levine, and perfecting her singing in Master classes at the Julliard with Maria Callas, and at the Mozarteum, in Salzburg Austria, Cynthia Hansell-Bakić soon became a formidable performer who today can boast more than 57 title roles to her credit. From Monteverdi’s Musica and Speranza in “ORFEO”, which she performed in the Split Summer Festival, and Otavia in the “L’INCORONATIONE DI POPPEA” performed in Ljubljana, to the role of Miss Wordsworth in “ALBERT HERRING” by Benjamin Britten, also performed in Ljubljana.

With the roles of Maria in Alban Berg’s “WOZZECK” and Judita in Bela Bartok’s “BLUEBEARD’S CASTLE”, performed in St. Louis and in Hungary, she established herself as a rare musical/dramatic stage personality with a wealth of expression and transformations. Her very attractive appearance enabled Cynthia Hansell-Bakić to become an ideal interpreter of young, sensitive heroines such as Puccini’s Mimi. The Act 1 and Act 3 arias from “LA BOHEHE” are included on this CD. With the role of Amelia in “ SIMONE BOCCANEGRA”, performed during the Split Summer Festival in 1979,which has been critically acclaimed as one of the best opera productions in Croatia, she became on of Croatia’s prominent artists. She has remained in our memories as the gentle, lost daughter of the Doge. We hear the duet from Act 1 on this CD with the baritone Ferdinand of Croatia’s greatest artists.

With time she began to interpret more dramatically difficult roles: Verdi’s withdrawn and disappointed Elizabeth in “DON CARLOS” and the betrayed Desdemona in his “OTELLO” she gave the necessary feminine strength. In the title role of Puccini’s immortal Tosca, in a stageing by Kosta Spaić and under the baton of Vjekoslav Šutej, Cynthia Hansell-Bakić gave such a dramatically strong interpretation to the famous heroine, threading into her personality fresh, lyric accents, that she received acclaim as “one of the most beautiful creations on the Croatian opera scene in the past two decades.” We hear her on this CD in ACT 2 in the scene and Tosca’s prayer, with bariton Ferdinand Radovan as Scarpia.

Partnered by one of Croatia’s greatest tenors, Viktor Bušljeta, Cynthia Hansell-Bakić was a brilliant protagonist in ANDREA CHENIER by Umberto Giordano. Given on the occasion of the opening night of the newly restored opera house in Split in 1980, under the direction of Vjekoslav Šutej, who was then at the beginning of his career, and this production would open for him the path to world success. We hear on this CD the duet between Madelein and Chenier from Act 2, and Madelein’s aria from Act 3 (in the Croatian recording of this opera.)

Cynthia Hansell-Bakić has also become an outstanding interpreter of roles from the Croatian repertoire, such as Ðula the village girl in “ERO S’ ONOGA SVIJETA” by Jakov Gotovac, or as MORANA from an opera by the same name, or as Eva from NIKOLA ŠUBIÆ ZRINJSKI... an opera by Ivan pl. Zajc of historically great importance. Also, composers frequently wrote works for her particular voice and interpretive style, such as the OSOR REQUIEM and MYSTERY, CANTATA LIBERTAS and POEM OF MOSTAR, written by Boris Papandopulo.

A show case of Mozartean roles...Donna Anna and Donna Elvira in DON GIOVANNI, Countessa in LE NOZZE DI FIGARO, Elektra in IDOMENEO, and Fiordeligi in COSI FAN TUTTE, helped to hone her voice into an instrument of flexibility and dramatic expression. Her newest role of Alice in FALSTAFF, or her deeply moving interpretation of Cio-Cio San from Puccini’s MADAME BUTTERFLY and the passionate beauty of Manon in his MANON LESCAUT (heard on this CD are the arias from Acts 2 and 4, as well as the duet from Act 2 sung with the excellent Des Grieux of Viktor Bušljeta), are roles particularly dear to this artist.

Michaela in Bizet’s CARMEN, Margareta in Gounod’s FAUST, Maženka in Smetana’s THE BARTERED BRIDE, Tatjana in Tchaikovski’s EUGENE ONEGIN, Rosalinda in Strauss’s DIE FLEDERMAUS, Adina in Donizetti’s ELISIR D’AMOR, and above all the refined sensuality of Nedda in Leoncavallo’s I PAGLIACCI, are only a part of the rich opera repertoire of Cynthia Hansell- Bakić. 2006 Cynthia Hansell-Bakić added the difficult mono-opera “ LA VOIX HUMAINE” by Francis Poulenc and Jean Cocteau, to her vast repertoire. For this CD and her stage performance of the same mono-opera, Ms. Hansell-Bakić was awarded the coveted award “MILKA TRNINA” presented by the Croatian Artistic Musicians’ Society in 2006.

She is an active MASTER TEACHER giving Masterclasses, workshops as well as holding voice seminars at international music academies in Italy, Greece, Egypt, USA, France and Croatia.

One must add to this her wide concert and Lieder repertoire, and her performances in many international festivals from Dubrovnik to Ascoli Piceno as both an artist and professor. Since 1990 she has been a professor of voice at the Music Academy in Zagreb and in Split where she is now a Full Professor.

The year 2011 Ms. Hansell-Bakić was awarded the “LIFE AWARD FOR HER CAREER AS AN OPERA DIVA AND HER PEDAGOGICAL WORK FROM THE CITY OF SPLIT”. Then again in 2012 she was awarded the highest Medal of Honor given by the President of the Republic of Croatia, the “ORDER of DANICA CROATIA-MARKO MARULIĆ for OUTSTANDING CONTRIBUTION IN CROATIAN CULTURE”.

Written by Marija Barbieri