Please share your background.
I was born in Nagpur, India and emigrated with my family to Poughkeepsie, New York at the age of three. I did my elementary and secondary schooling in Poughkeepsie. I then attended the Peabody Conservatory of Music of the Johns Hopkins University for my undergraduate studies, thereafter receiving graduate degrees in music performance from the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University and the Boston University Opera Institute. I then earned a Juris Doctorate from Suffolk University Law School and became an attorney licensed to practice law in two US jurisdictions. I currently balance a corporate law practice in New York State with a professional international opera and concert career.
When and why did you decide on a career in the Western classical music world?
Although I am not from a family of professional musicians, my family has always loved Indian classical music and I had been exposed to it frequently as a child. My interest in Western classical music happened early and without the occurrence of any specific event. I was drawn to this genre by the age of five and would often hum tunes while sitting in the back of my parents’ car. By age eight, my parents recognised and encouraged my interest in music by enrolling me in private voice and music lessons, which I did along with several other extracurricular activities. While in grade school, I performed musical theater but my training, vocal quality and musical interest leaned strongly toward opera. When applying to universities for my undergraduate studies, my voice teacher had suggested that I audition for music performance programs. Buoyed by my receipt of scholarships to several prestigious music schools, I decided to pursue a degree in music performance. This subsequently led to my commitment to become a professional musician, a commitment that I recently renewed after a hiatus.
How has the journey been since?
Traditional at first, but anything but traditional since my return to the profession after some time away. I started my university study as a baritone and had several terrific opportunities as a “young apprentice artist” singing with prestigious summer programs in the United States and abroad. Several years into a developing career as a baritone, I decided to step away from the profession and cultivated other professional interests. I served as a criminal policy adviser for the prosecutors’ office in Boston, Massachusetts, I earned a law degree and became in practicing attorney. Upon my wife’s encouragement, I returned to the opera world, but this time as a tenor. The journey since the transition to tenor has been much more promising with terrific high-profile performance opportunities. Insisting on forging my own path has allowed me to bring a sense of ownership to my career. My mantra has been, “if you find yourself on the beaten path, you’re on the wrong path”.
Your favorite composer and piece of music?
This question is always difficult for me to answer given the wealth of phenomenal music written by so many wonderful composers. However, I do tend to gravitate toward composers of the Romantic era. The expansive style of composition coupled with themes of human nature and relationships make for an angst-ridden roller coaster draped in beautiful harmonies.
Do you visit India often? Would you perform here?
Unfortunately, it has been a while since I have visited India. My last visit was in 2002. Prior to that, I had visited India three times as a child during summer vacations; the last of the three visits specifically for my thread ceremony. I still have a number of my family living in India – particularly in Bangalore and Mumbai – whom I have been promising to visit. It would be wonderful to couple a visit with a performance tour throughout India.
Your advice for young Indians planning on pursuing this career path?
Music is first and foremost a form of communication. It is essential that artists have something that they want to communicate, and that they have the courage to communicate it. This requires a lifelong commitment to learn, grow, participate in the world and embrace the human condition. My first piece of advice is to participate in life. My second piece of advice is to consider coupling a musical education with another educational pursuit as this might help an aspiring musician to have a broader perspective. As a practical matter, I would advise a prospective singer to seek out a teacher who (1) is experienced in the pedagogy of building classical voices and (2) connects with the prospective singer both in terms of personality and communication.
What changes in India do you hope for in the future?
I am not as familiar with the status of Western classical music in India as I would like. I do know that there has been rapidly growing interest for the art form reaching beyond the large cities as evidenced by music schools, youth orchestras, a professional adult orchestra and international tours which have performed throughout India. I hope that this trend continues and that I can be a part of it.
About Alok Kumar
Most recently, tenor Alok Kumar debuted at Canada’s Le Domaine Forget International Music Festival as Don José in the Bizet/Brook La Tragédie de Carmen. He then returned to New York City to portray the role of the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto which he followed as Alfredo in Verdi’s La Traviata in Baltimore. March 2015 found Mr. Kumar debuting at the Sanibel Music Festival in Florida in excerpts from Puccini’s La Bohème, Tosca, Madama Butterfly and Turandot. Thereafter, he reprised the role of Don José in Opera Delaware’s production of the Bizet/Brook La Tragédie de Carmen. Mr. Kumar made a role and company debut as Calàf in Puccini’s Turandot under the baton of Emmanuel Plasson which he followed with a venue debut at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. He concluded the season in a concert of French operatic selections in Poilhes, France under the direction of Maestro Michel Plasson.
Mr. Kumar begins the 2015-2016 Season with a solo recital of Romani-influenced art song at the Ware Center in Lancaster, PA in collaboration with pianist Michael Fennelly. He follows this with a benefit concert for the Savannah’s Children’s Choir at the historic Lucas Theater in Savannah, GA offering an evening of works by Puccini, Bizet, Verdi and Massenet. In New York City, Mr. Kumar reprises the role of Don José in Bizet’s Carmen collaborating with acclaimed stage director Bernard Uzan before returning to Vermont for a role debut as MacDuff in Verdi’s Macbeth. He concludes his season with a series of summer concerts in New Jersey featuring some of opera’s greatest hits with the Bay Atlantic Symphony led by Jed Gaylin.
Highlights from the 2013-2014 Season included a role debut of the Duke of Mantua in Verdi’s Rigoletto followed by his portrayal of Pinkerton in the excerpted love duet from Puccini’s Madama Butterfly with the Cincinnati Pops led by Maestro John Morris Russell in collaboration with the Cincinnati Opera. Later in the season, Mr. Kumar enjoyed a role and company debut as Don José with the Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre in its production of Bizet’s Carmen. He concluded the season in concerts, first as the tenor soloist in Rossini’s Stabat Mater with the Fairfield County Chorale and then as the tenor soloist in the New York premier of Stephen Paulus’ To Be Certain of the Dawn at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium.
An avid collaborator of new musical works, Mr. Kumar premiered the tenor solo in the Thomas Cabaniss Cantata My Song is a Fire and collaborated with director Scott Schwarz and librettist Marc Aceto in Jeffrey Stock’s musical adaptation of E. M. Forster’s A Room with a View. Most recently, Mr. Kumar recorded the role of Jesus of Nazareth in Marcos Galvany’s operatic tableaux Oh My Son with members of the Washington National Symphony and Washington National Opera Orchestra, members of the Washington National Opera Chorus and the Washington National Cathedral Children’s Choir under the baton of Michael Rossi. Mr. Kumar performed the role of Jesus in the work’s European premier in Spain in 2014 and will reprise the role at the Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2015.
Mr. Kumar has appeared with the Santa Fe Opera, Austin Lyric Opera, Asheville Lyric Opera, Opera Delaware, Cedar Rapids Opera Theatre and Portland Opera Repertory Theater amongst others and has most frequently portrayed leading roles in the operas of Bizet, Puccini and Verdi.
As a solo concert artist, he has appeared with symphonies and orchestras in Spain, California, Connecticut, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Texas and Massachusetts, including in Symphony Hall with the Boston Pops for the Richard Rodgers Centennial and in Sanders Theater with the Greater Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Federico Cortese. Mr. Kumar’s festival appearances include the Spoleto Festival in Italy, Le Domaine Forget International Music Festival in Canada, the Sanibel Music Festival in Florida and the Crested Butte Music Festival in Colorado.
Mr. Kumar is a member of the state bars of Massachusetts and New York and maintains a law practice in New York. Born in India and raised in upstate New York, he resides in New York City with his wife.