While surfing through some unlikely web sites of ethnic music, I found an mp3 sample from the Armenian opera, Anoush/Anush by Armen Tigranian. Written in 1905, it's a simple story of love in a 19th century Armenian village.

Anoush is in love with Saro, who is the best friend of her brother, Mossy. But, as opera would have it, Saro publicly humiliates Mossy when he defeats him in a ritual wrestling match at the wedding celebration. Traditionally the match was supposed to end in a draw, so that no one would loose face, but Saro is carried away by the moment and defeats Mossy. Of course, the wedding is off; Mossy swears revenge; the couple runs off into mountains. Later, upon their return to the village, Mossy finds Saro alone in the hills and shoots him through the heart. When Anoush discovers that Saro has been murdered, she becomes mad with grief and throws herself off a high cliff.

That's it, but, oh, the music! If I remember correctly, I had a recording of the opera on Melodiya records back in the 50's. It was a typical Soviet production with folk musical instruments, like the balalaika, and Armenian drums you sometimes hear in the music of Aram Khachaturian.

The music is modal, somewhat similar to much of the music of the Middle East. Tigranian, at least, is more lyrical than the modal music of the Arab world, with less pronounced but equally complicated rhythms. Grace notes and "shakes" (a kind of trembling vibrato) lend an ethereal quality to the melodies and the principal singers often used a "kvetch" detected in Jewish liturgical music.

There must be a strong Armenian community in the Detroit area, for they were able to raise enough money to mount a production in the Armenian language at the Michigan Opera Theater in November 2001. From all reports of the web it was a rousing success.