CHAT: Tenor Anando Mukerjee talks about finding his love for opera music

When one thinks about opera in India, one draws a bit of a blank. With a few exceptions, most of us look upon the art form as an elitist genre of Western Classical music that a choice few understand and appreciate. Anando Mukerjee, probably India’s first and at present the only true operatic tenor performing internationally, says otherwise.

“Opera is colourful, melodramatic and over the top and has such an immediate resonance with Bollywood! It just needs to be packaged the right way and made accessible in India. It can really be huge here,” Anando says fervently adding that when he took up opera singing in his teen years, there were hardly any teachers available to train him. His interest in the form was born out of a very typically Indian upbringing though. He muses, “I’m a Bengali and it is typical of a Bengali household to be involved with dance, music and literature. My family was no different. My mother is a pianist and she introduced me to the joys of Western Classical music at a very early age. At 13, I suddenly discovered that I had a voice and in the natural course of events when I came across operatic music on All India Radio, I found myself wanting to imitate the male tenor’s voice and actually did it quite well! It became an obsession with me and has never left me since.”

Recounting his private training with teachers from Royal College of Music in the U.K. followed by opera legend Nicolai Gedda in Switzerland, Anando goes on to recall some of the most memorable performances of his career, “My first performance on stage, as Rodolfo in ‘La Bohme’ at the Belgrade National Opera, will always be one of my life’s most cherished moments.” Ask him whether singing in multiple European languages comes easily to him, he responds quite simply, “Of course it does, I’m an Indian! We’re a country of so many complex and musical languages, our ears are tuned to deal with a wide variety of phonetics and most European languages have Sanskrit roots anyway.”

So have the European as well as American opera worlds received him well? Anando’s voice resounds with warmth and satisfaction as he replies, “It has been wonderful. Wherever I’ve performed, I’ve enjoyed great affection and a very positive response from the audience. The best responses I’ve had abroad, actually, are from American audiences and Italian audiences. But yes, the response in India is always overwhelmingly positive and rapturous. It is a different sensation altogether when your own country responds to you in a way that nobody else can,” he signs off.