Mandikian, Arda (1924?2009), singer and arts administrator, was born on 1 September 1924 (some sources suggest 1921) in Smyrna, Turkey, the daughter of Krikor Mandikian and his wife, Beatrike Ananian. Her parents, of Armenian descent, had escaped the Turkish massacres of Armenians in 1915. They settled in Athens shortly after her birth, and she grew up as a citizen of Greece, to which she gave a lifetime's loyalty. She studied singing with Elvira de Hidalgo at the Athens Conservatoire, where she made her student début in February 1940 in a duet with a fellow pupil, Marianna Kalogeropoulou (later Maria Callas), and with Alexandra Trianti. Her interests in Greek national music led to a study of the surviving fragments of ancient Greek music, encouraged by two officers in the British army in Athens who persuaded her to come to England. Here she met the Byzantinologist and composer Egon Wellesz, with whose help she gave a recital, Twenty-one centuries of Greek song, at Morley College on 6 April 1949, beginning with the two Delphic hymns to Apollo of c.128 BC. Its success led to various repeats, and a recording of all six fragments at Delphi in October 1950.
Friendship with Wellesz, then living and working in Oxford, led to a memorable operatic début with the University Opera Club as Dido in Berlioz's opera Les Troyens. In the following year she went on to sing the First Witch in Purcell's Dido and Aeneas at Bernard Miles's Mermaid Theatre, before returning to Oxford to take the title role in Wellesz's opera Incognita. She made her Covent Garden début in 1953 as a Niece in Britten's Peter Grimes, and at his invitation she repeated her Greek song recital during the 1954 Aldeburgh Festival. Impressed by her artistry and by the particular timbre of her strong, secure, and fluently expressive voice, including in a performance of his song cycle Les Illuminations, Britten wrote the role of Miss Jessel for her in his opera The Turn of the Screw (1954; recorded the following year). She sang roles for Britten's English Opera Group, including his Female Chorus in The Rape of Lucretia. Her other roles included Elettra in Mozart's Idomeneo, and the title role in Holst's Savitri. The enduring impression she made on Britten had a late flowering when he made use of part of a Delphic hymn in his last opera, Death in Venice, for the music in the scene The Games of Apollo.
Mandikian had meanwhile continued to appear widely in Britain and abroad. In 1951 she made her Dublin début as Musetta in La Bohème; some sources suggest that at the time she also contracted a short-lived marriage. She sang in Berlioz's L'Enfance du Christ at the Edinburgh Festival under Sir Thomas Beecham, who also conducted her in Grétry's Zémire et Azor at Bath. She also sang Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff and returned to Covent Garden in Handel's Samson in 1958 as the Israelite Woman. It was a part demonstrating not only her theatrical intensity but her virtuoso command of a voice filled with colour and vitality. She was a fine interpreter of song, especially in the French repertory, notably Henri Duparc, Claude Debussy, Berlioz's Les Nuits d'Été, and Ravel's Mélodies Grecques, but it was her innate dramatic sense that guided her performances. She also maintained her loyalty to her acquired Greek roots with performances of works by Kalomiris, Pallandios, and Theodorakis, among others, and needed little encouragement to sing Greek folk songs. Recordings bear witness to the intelligence and the dramatic command of these and of her operatic roles. Though it survives only in three incomplete recordings, her singing of Berlioz's Dido justifies the memories of those who found her incomparable in the role, her regal pride of voice well matching her handsome, classical features.
Early in the 1960s Mandikian felt bound to resettle in Greece in order to care for her ailing mother. Her international career came to an unhappy end in 1967 since, an outspoken critic of the colonels' régime, she found herself under surveillance and feared that if she left Greece she might be prevented from returning. With the restoration of democracy in 1974 she was able to assume a more central role in Greek musical life, on the board of directors of the National Opera (briefly as general administrator), and from 1987 of the Friends of Music Society that played a major part in the establishment of the Megaron, the Athens concert hall. She remained energetic in the encouragement of young artists, especially as president of the Maria Callas scholarships, and, while continuing to visit London annually and keep musical friendships intact, to play a central and honoured part in Greek musical life. Her vigour and integrity of character, unquenchable warmth, spirited humour, and deep sense of loyalty made her as valued a friend to visiting English musicians as she was to her compatriots. She died in Athens on 8 November 2009, of cancer.
The Times (17 Nov 2009) · Daily Telegraph (24 Nov 2009) · The Guardian (26 Nov 2009) · personal knowledge (2013) · private information (2013)
Megaron Theatre, Athens, Friends of Music archive
BFI NFTVA, performance footage
BL NSA, interview recording
BL NSA, performance recordings
Megaron Theatre, Athens
D. De Marney, group portrait, photographs, 1954, Getty Images, London