Please share your background with us.
I grew up in Mussoorie, in the foothills of the Himalayas, as my parents were teachers at a boarding school called St. George’s College, and I studied at the same school. We didn’t have much access to learning musical instruments, but sang in the school choir every now and then. My parents could sing well and ran the choir in the church. In school I took a lot of interest in drawing and middle to long distance running. I later shifted to Mumbai to complete a degree in Physics followed by a post-graduate diploma at the Centre for Development of Advanced Computing. I then worked for four years as a software programmer.
How and when did you develop an interest towards Western classical singing?
During my software programming years, in order to keep my artistic side alive, I joined a choir called the Stop Gaps Choral Ensemble. Here I was first introduced to the classical style of singing, but it was choral singing and not solo singing or opera. The choir director would introduce choreography and stage work while we sang. This resulted in some great exposure.
I then got an opportunity to sing for Soprano Patricia Rozario OBE, FRCM when she made a trip to scout for talent in India. I was nervous to try to sing anything classical in front of her and therefore sang a gospel piece. She sensed a potential in me for the classical repertoire and I joined her workshops. She and her husband Mark Troop introduced us to the world of classical music and opera. I at once took a liking for it and began learning my first operatic aria at the age of 23.
Tell us about your training and experiences from the Royal College of Music in London.
As a result of Patricia Rozario’s workshops, I was able to secure a place at the Royal College of Music, London. Four years of intense training followed. Every week we would go through classes in Italian, English, French and German Art song and separate classes on diction in each language. We had classes in movement and acting. We were each assigned a Repertoire Professor who would suggest what we should sing, and my main Vocal Professor was Patricia. During my time at the RCM, I sang with Opera at Bearwood, Barefoot Opera as well as at an Urdu Opera at the Southbank Centre.
How has the classical music scene evolved in India over the recent years?
Many people are taking to teaching, which is a good thing. The Giving Voice Society conducted an opera tour of India with an all-Indian cast in 2014 which was a great achievement. There have been many students getting admission abroad for studies, but the funding is a huge hurdle and therefore efforts to bring quality education to India are the way to go. ‘Giving Voice’ workshops for voice and ‘In Good Form’ workshops for piano are two such initiatives that are doing very honest work. India is a large country and I am sure there are many good things happening that I am not aware of. I meet many singers who have benefited from their association with the Neemrana Music Foundation in Delhi which is very active in the Northern region of India.
You recently toured India – please share your experiences and audience reception.
I am now singing under the banner ‘Operawala’ which speaks in the language of the listener through the medium of the operatic style of singing. With pianist Nadine Crasto, we performed at five concerts in Mumbai, Panjim, Benaulim, Mysore and Pune. We use music as a tool to tell a story. Audiences get a chance to assimilate the music below the words to understand what the artist is trying to convey. In a sense, the barrier of words in a foreign language is removed when the audiences are urged to listen just to the music and are given a context to understand what is going on in the music. For our concerts we explored the life of composer Francesco Paolo Tosti, with a song for each of the significant moments in his life. The audience knew what was happening and we performed a song of his to reflect and better understand the emotion behind the moment.
Is it difficult for Indian audiences to relate to opera?
Not at all. There were so many first time listeners at the Operawala concerts who vowed to come back as they were fascinated by the medium. I am talking about Western Classical singing in general and not only Opera. There is a large section of audiences in India who know their opera well and for them, one must perform to their best potential.
Then there are others who are yet to acquire a taste for the music, and I think this is a large section of the audiences. For them, I would suggest a performer to package their programme in such a way that it is accessible. One does not need to do much however, as the music itself has survived the test of time and once the audiences make that initial connection, they are going to come back provided the performers are of a good standard.
Your advice for young and aspiring singers in India?
With a classical instrument or the voice, one has to have the patience to work for about five to ten years before they can achieve the technique, or in other words, the tools to express themselves to the fullest. I am at a stage where I have begun to be able to do things on my own, but there is a long way to go and the advice of trusted teachers and mentors is very valuable. To be able to sustain one’s instrument during a concert tour, or for the run of an Opera production, one needs to have worked daily for years with exercises to build the vocal mechanism. I will be undertaking a challenging role of James Meredith with the Welsh National Youth Opera in a few weeks. Such a task can only be possible if the singer observes a lot of discipline. During my tour of India I was not very well and therefore had to rest as much as possible during the days off. I learned that even if one is not at their best, with precautions, rest and a lot of hot chicken soup, anything is possible.